"Not I, but Christ": allegory and the puritan self.
In claiming that his flesh had been destroyed ("scrap't away," Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God
If subversion is possible, it will be a subversion from within the terms of the law, through the possibilities that emerge when the law turns against itself and spawns unexpected permutations of itself.
If the Bible is true, then I'm Christ. But so what? You know being Christ ain't nothing. I claim my father sits on the throne. Doesn't yours? Isn't your father God?
David Koresh, Leader of the Branch Davidians, Waco, Texas, February, 1993
One day in July 1649, William Franklin told Mary Gadbury that his outward body had been "destroy'd" and had been replaced with the spiritual and glorified body of Christ. He had "closed with Christ," body and soul.(2) According to her confession, recorded by a hostile, but clearly fascinated witness, Gadbury found Franklin's claim difficult to credit at first. Indeed, she says that she laughed in his face. But within a short space of time, probably no more than a few days, she came to recognize in Franklin the man of her hopes and dreams, indeed the man of all Christendom's hopes and dreams. By Christmas time, Franklin and Gadbury (now announcing herself as the "Spouse of Christ") had gathered to themselves a number of disciples, including a Hampshire minister, William Woodward and his wife, Margaret. Humphrey Ellis, a Congregational minister, was alarmed enough by the couples' success to compose a rather detailed (62-page) account of their activities and trials. By some accounts, their followers numbered in the hundreds even after they and their chief supporters had been apprehended and imprisoned (E, 47).
Franklin was not the first English pseudo-christ, but he appears to have been the first of a flurry of pseudo-christs and ecstatic women prophets who commanded the anxious attention of the English public in the years immediately following the execution of Charles I.(3) Thomas Tany, for example, dated his bodily conversion from November 1649, saying "I have been emptied of temporalls, but am filled with the eternall being . . . I am One."(4) Over the course of his seven-year career, Tany, calling himself Thoreaujohn, also claimed to be high priest of the Jews, King of England and France, and even King of the Jews.(5) In 1650 John Robins was reported to be raising the dead and announcing himself as Christ.(6) According to Lodowick Muggleton, who believed himself to be "one of the two last Prophets & Witnesses of the Spirit, being the Third & last Record from God on Earth," Robins preached "that he was the first Adam that was in that innocent State; & that his Body had been Dead this Five Thousand, Six Hundred and odd Years, & now he was risen again from the Dead; And that he was that Adam Melchisadek that met Abraham in the Way."(7) Robins's wife, Joan, like Mary Gadbury before her, believed she was about to give birth to Christ, a Christ in "substance," rather than one of "types and shadows."(8) Mrs. Richard King and Mary Adams made identical claims in 1651. Mary Vanlop and Joan Garment, whose husband Joshua was a minister and disciple of John Robins, both claimed that the man they followed was the "true god to serve."(9) Anna Trapnel accompanied Baptist leader Vavasour Powell to Whitehall in 1654, only to fall into a twelve-day trance during which she uttered a series of fifth-monarchist prophecies denouncing Cromwell and the army for threatening to betray Christs kingdom on earth.(10) In 1656, the Quaker James Nayler rode into Bristol on a donkey as women followers strewed palms in his way.(11) This list is far from complete, but the literature from which it is drawn suggests that if the early interregnum years were not unusually blessed in the frequency of such episodes, they certainly attracted more widespread attention, both popular and official, enthusiastic and anxious, than before or after.
Most of the stories involve sexy bits--a perennial attraction for press and public. The "Abominable Practices" men and especially women were supposed to have acted with and upon their bodies were as much a concern and attraction as the "Horrid Blasphemies" they uttered with their mouths. Indeed, the 1654 List of Some of the Grand Blasphemers, published by "The Committee for Religion," is preoccupied with the sexual behavior of women, especially "Ranters, Quakers and Seekers."(12) Almost all of its examples betray the fear that the radically "inward" religion of Puritan "heartwork" threatened to become, at least on its sectarian vanguard, very much an "outward," bodily--carnal--experience: women claiming that the men they slept with were Christ or God, that they were literally pregnant with Christ, or that the routine practices of everyday life were as worshipful as--or more so than--organized "ordinances."
Mary Gadbury's situation epitomizes this fear. A married (and deserted) woman, she appears to have shared a bed for several months with William Franklin (also married), the man she believed was Christ. However, she insisted that her relations with this Christ were not "carnal," but "spiritual"--that since Franklin's body had been replaced by the glorified spiritual body of Christ, any physical relations with such a body must, by definition, be spiritual relations. Ellis invites his readers to scoff, along with the courtroom audience, at what he takes to be Gadbury's transparently self-serving confusion of the carnal and the spiritual:
She answered, to free herself from being accounted a harlot, . . . that he knew not such fleshly relation, that she companied with him not as a carnal, but as a spiritual man; . . . she companied not with him in an uncivil way, but as a fellow-feeler of her misery; at which last word the whole Court laughed exceedingly, some saying, Yea we think you companied with him as a fellow-feeler indeed. (E, 50).
The court's excessive laughter at what might have seemed to many, perhaps even to Ellis, an exceedingly pathetic self-account of a woman who imagined Christ as a fully present, even palpable, "fellow-feeler of her misery," marks and masks a perennially troubling--because imperfectly suppressed--contradiction in Puritanism. This is the contradiction between Puritanism's homiletic encouragement of an "experimental" as opposed to "notional" understanding of and relationship to the Word incarnate, its equally strong commitment to a dualist ontology according to which the experience of the body in this world is at worst wholly to be despised, and at best an allegorical "shell" whose temporal blessings are to be understood as no more than a dim figure of the eternal blessings of the world to come. Bunyan, for instance, defined a notionist as one who knows the scripture but only "in the notion, and hast not the power of the same in |his~ heart," having a head "full of the knowledge of the Scriptures," but a heart "empty of sanctifying grace."(13) Once the allegorical shell of bodily experience has been cracked by hermeneutic contemplation, it must be resolutely tossed away. "For we must hold," taught Calvin, "that our mind never rises seriously to desire and aspire after the future, until it has learned to despise the present life."(14)
With this doctrinal privileging of experience over notions, Protestant and Puritan preachers encouraged their flocks so as to experience the Word in scripture that they might say, "Jesus Christ . . . was never more real and apparent then now; here I have seen him and felt him indeed."(15) On the other hand, no version of Christianity is more committed than Calvinism to the absolute separation between this world and the next where Christs glorified body exclusively resides; no more miracles, no eucharistic "real presence," no ecstatic raptures.(16) God is everywhere represented in his creation, especially in "man," but our ontological realm and Gods remain as distinct from each other as figure and thing figured, except in the single exceptional case of Christs sojourn on earth. Even Calvin's christology emphasizes the distinction between rather than the combination of the divine and human.(17) The divine is never human; soul is never body; this world is never changed into the next, or mingled with the next; the eternal does not participate with the temporal. The divine may manifest itself in the human, "hid under a humble clothing of flesh," but the two remain as distinct as sign and thing signified. In this world there is no fulfillment, only signs and shadows.
Despite this doctrinal distinction, the expectation of fulfillment, of a new creature in a new heavenly kingdom, ran high in the late 1640s and early 1650s, and many proclaimed that fulfillment had arrived. The king was himself a sort of pseudo-christ, both before the dramatically public execution of his body and after. The frontispiece to Eikon Basilike depicts Charles I kneeling in what can only be described as a Laudian's fantasy of Gethsemane as he prepares to crown himself with a coronet of thorns. Owen Felltham's epitaph for Charles I reads: "Here Charles the First and Christ the Second lies."(18) Appended to the 15 March 1649 edition (and all that followed) of Eikon Basilike was an epitaph by one J.H. that apostrophized the King as "thou earthly god, celestial man / . . . king and priest and prophet too."(19) Arise Evans, who in 1647 claimed he was the Lord God Almighty, also predicted the violent demise of Charles I; but by 1652 he was announcing not only that Charles II would be restored to his fathers throne without bloodshed within five years, but that the king would be a new Messiah.(20)
Paul's claim, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20), was appropriated by powerful and powerless alike. Literally and figuratively, explicitly or implicitly, it was invoked by any Protestant who believed in his or her (usually his) own conversion and regeneration. But this near-universal claim constituted a radically different social practice, with significantly different meanings and results, for King and "mechanick," man and woman. Charles I earned the status of martyr; Charles II used it to secure his throne; William Franklin languished in prison for several months and then vanished into obscurity; Mary Gadbury was committed to Bridewell where she was whipped into confessing herself a fraud, then recommitted to be whipped again for the offenses she had confessed (E, 51-52). Being made one with Christ was not the same for everybody.
Interest in early modern religious radicals has run high in recent years, spurred largely by Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down (1972). Unlike Norman Cohn in The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), who interpreted medieval and early-modern chiliasm as largely neglected early warnings about Nazi and communist fanaticism, Hill reads seventeenth-century religious radicalism as positive anticipations of modern popular revolutions, effectively challenging the modern state even in its relative infancy.(21) My interest in people like Franklin and Gadbury is specifically motivated by a desire to account for John Bunyan's nervous and contradictory relation to allegory, a mode of thought and expression about which Protestant Reformers issued frequent and strident warnings. If, as Hill has argued. Bunyan is best understood as a somewhat belated version of the millenarian radical, learning his religion from notoriously chiliastic army preachers, we should want to know what part, if any, allegorical thought played in their religious and political discourses and in those of their hearers and followers.
Franklin and Gadbury are good examples of millenarian expectations carried to a logical and very personal extreme. Though they are often dismissed as crazies and even frauds of the popular religious left, it is my working assumption that they and people like them offer us a valuable glimpse of how the most troublesome religious and political issues of the period take shape and motivate action among the "mechanick sort," the under-educated working and often vagrant class with which Bunyan explicitly identified himself.(22) Did they share the resistance to allegory so prominent in Reformation and Puritan discourses? How do they interpret scripture? How did they understand and act upon Calvin's re-allegorized relation between God and the self, between this world and the promised "world which is to come"? What role, if any, does allegory play in refiguring the human body, male and female, in its relation to God and to God-incarnate? Exploring these questions will shed new light on the role allegory plays in Bunyan's eventual rejection of the most radical modes of Puritan thought and practice. If, as Hill has argued, Bunyan learned his religion from chiliastic literalists, then his decision to represent "the Way/and Race of Saints" allegorically in "Types, Shadows and Metaphors" signals a significant departure from millenarian literalism, one which permits the re-insertion of the very difference and deferral radical Puritanism sought to erase--the difference between "This World" and "That which is to Come."(23)
For the rest of this essay, then, I want to use the episode of Franklin and Gadbury, as it is recorded by the more orthodox Puritan, Humphrey Ellis, as a kind of heuristic paradigm of the Reformation, and especially English Puritan, crisis in the theory and practice of representation. Protestantism repeatedly promised to liberate the Christian faith from the riddling allegories and equivocating tropes of "Papist" scholastic theology and hermeneutics. Franklin and Gadbury, perhaps, took this promise too literally, but that, surprisingly enough, is not the charge leveled against them by the orthodox Puritan Ellis. His charges and their responses foreground on a popular level the problems and contradictions that had been brewing in Reformation thought at least since Luther.
Humphrey Ellis, the Winchester parson who wrote up the only detailed account of Franklin and Gadbury, levels four interestingly contradictory charges against the pseudo-christ and his followers. He lumps them together with a whole host of "abusers of the Scriptures" who flourished in England in the late 1640s and early 50s: Anabaptists, Seekers, separatists, chiliasts, even "Jews and Papists."(24) The specific abuses of the scriptures he charges against Gadbury and Franklin are: 1) they perversely interpret scripture according to "Allegorical fancies," 2) they apply specific portions of scripture too directly to themselves, 3) they reject and condemn the scriptures altogether even as they use "seeming Scripture-Gospel expressions" (E, 7), and 4) they exhibit a deceitful theatrically in their use of scripture language, calculated to lend to their actions and speeches the authority of the very scripture they abuse and reject. Finally, Ellis accounts for his special interest in Gadbury and Franklin by identifying them as particularly striking examples of the scriptures fulfillment:
What our blessed Saviour hath foretold to his Disciples, should come to pass in the latter Times, and to be a great and manifest sign of his Coming, and of the end of the World, (viz.) That men shall say, Lo here is Christ, and lo there: that false Christs, and false Prophets shall arise; Mat. 24.23,24, the same may be seen truly verified in these times of ours; and the fulfilling thereof, even in the literal sence of it, will be discovered in this following Relation. (E, 5)
Are the implicit contradictions in Ellis's charges truly contradictory or only apparently so? Is allegorical interpretation of the scriptures also a sort of rejection of the scriptures? In what sense is the long-standing Protestant tradition of taking scripture promises personally not only a perversion of the scriptures, but an implicit rejection of them? How can scripture be interpreted to authorize its own rejection? Most puzzling is how Franklin and Gadbury's allegedly "Allegorical" perversions of the scriptures result in a literal performance ("even in the literal sence of it"), that is, a fulfillment, of the scriptures own prophecies? A closer look at Ellis's charges and at Franklin and Gadbury's counter-charges demonstrates that "crazies" and "frauds" did not threaten orthodoxy from outside the Puritan tradition, but very much from within it. In Franklin and Gadbury, Puritanism spawned strange and "unexpected permutations of itself," scripting parodies or "pastiches" of Puritan orthodoxy out of that orthodoxy's own suppressed contradictions.(25)
Ellis complains that Franklin "would oftentimes alledg Scripture in his discourse, and speak much in the language of it, but very strangely abusing, perverting, wresting it from the true sence thereof by his Allegorical fancies" (E, 48). The charge of hermeneutically perverting the "true sence" of scripture had long been a mainstay of Protestant attacks against the Roman Church and sectaries alike. "The Holy Spirit," claimed Martin Luther, "is the very simplest writer and speaker there is in heaven and earth; therefore His words, too, cannot have more than one most simple sense, which we called the Scriptural or literal or tongue-sense."(26) William Tyndale also insisted that "the Scripture hath but one sense, which is the literal sense."(27) English reformers from William Whitaker (d. 1595) to John Weemse (d. 1636) felt obliged to announce that the scriptures were perspicuously and singularly "literal" and to denounce the so-called duplicities and "equivocations" of medieval exegetical practice, now associated with "Papists" and "Jesuites": "There is but one literal sense and meaning of every Scripture: So should men have but one sense and meaning in their minds, and not a double meaning, as the equivocating Jesuites have."(28) Calvin dubbed traditional medieval exegesis, the quadriga or fourfold method of scriptural interpretation, a "licentious system" contrived by Satan "to undermine the authority of Scripture, and to take away from the reading of it the true advantage." "For many centuries no man was considered to be ingenious, who had not the skill and daring necessary for changing into a variety of shapes the sacred word of God. . . . God visited this profanation by a just judgment when he suffered the pure meaning of the Scripture to be buried under false interpretations."(29) This charge of allegorizing the scriptures appears with some frequency alongside the more familiar charges against sectaries of condemning the scriptures outright as a "dead-letter," or interpreting them according to a "Lesbian rule," or idiosyncratic fantasies.(30) Bishop Samuel Parker of Oxford was still repeating the same charge in 1670: "And herein lies the most material difference between the sober Christians of the Church of England, and our modern sectaries, that we express the Precepts and Duties of the Gospel in plain and intelligent terms, whilst they trifle them away by childish Metaphors and Allegories, and will not talk of Religion but in barbarous and uncouth similitudes."(31)
According to Ellis, Franklin's chief "allegorical" fancy was his claim to have a new body, to be literally born again. Gadbury testified that Franklin had said,
the body and nature of Franklin, born at Overton, conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity, the Lord had destroyed, though the destruction thereof were not, as of the body, layd in dust, visible to the creature, to be seen by it. (E, 11)
As Gadbury reports his claim, Franklin equivocates a bit about the materiality of his body's destruction and transformation. The Lord had apparently destroyed the "body and nature" he was conceived and born into, but this destroyed body could not, of course, be produced; there was no corpus delecti. Nevertheless, at least one of Franklin's followers had a very literal understanding of his bodily transformation. Margaret Woodward, a Hampshire clergyman's spouse, testified
that the man examined before us, whom we called Franklin, is her Lord, and her King, and that she is saved by his Death and Passion. . . . That . . . his flesh was clean scrap't away, and his skin and bone hanged together: and his skin likewise very suddenly fell off from him, and that he had nothing left but the hair of his head, and of that one hair was not diminished; and afterwards new flesh came again as a young childe. (E, 39)(32)
Ellis transcribes a number of the judicial examinations of Franklin's disciples. They routinely identify the "one which some men call Franklin" as "the Son of God, the Christ crucified for our sins, now come down from Heaven" (E, 39).
When hauled before the justices, Franklin and his followers refused at first to give their "Names, Conditions, Callings, Habitations: They would . . . answer, they had no name, no habitation, according to the flesh" (E, 40). At first skeptical of Franklin's claims, Gadbury says she asked him about his wife and children, to which Franklin answered:
And as for the woman his wife, he owned her so to be his wife, while he carryed about that body, in which he was so joyned to her, and he then also owned his children to be the children of that body, but now they were no more to him then any other woman and children, and that he had a Command from God to separate from her. (E, 11)
Franklin and his followers implicitly claim that the state and its ideological apparatuses (marriage, family, law, vocation, even religion) can no longer "hail" him, for he is a new creature inside and out.(33) Having been "crucified at Jerusalem" (E, 41), he can say as Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
In what sense is Franklin's claim to the glorified body an "Allegorical" fancy, as Ellis charges? Ellis does not elaborate much on the hermeneutic theory underlying this charge, but we might well suppose that he sees Franklin as having confused the metaphors Paul employs to describe conversion with the "literal" sense intended by such metaphors. The normative literal sense of any scripture passage, according to long exegetical tradition, was the sense gathered from the explication of metaphorical expressions, not the literal sense of metaphorical figures themselves.(34) What Franklin and his disciples have apparently done is to take the metaphorical expressions themselves in a literal sense, abjuring even the most automatic exegetical gestures of reading demanded by obviously figurative expressions. Franklin has taken Puritanism's anti-allegorical and anti-figural emphasis to an extreme, insisting on taking Paul's metaphor of the new creature hyper-literally. And the result of hyper-literalism, paradoxically, is what Ellis calls "Allegorical fancies."
But how obviously metaphorical are Paul's descriptions of conversion? Paul frequently describes the Christian convert as being ontologically split between two states of being. Conversion makes one aware that the experience of being "in the flesh |sarx~" is not the experience of ones true being, the new creature, born of conversion:
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, if so be that, being clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (For we walk by faith, not by sight); We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5.1-8)
In this passage, a converts two ontological states are kept fairly distinct--one is now, the other is then--although ones true being, both originarily and teleologically, is a condition of "being absent from the body |somatos~, and . . . present with the Lord." In other places, Paul appears to announce that the convert is already "present with," indeed, virtually one with "the Lord":
Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5.16-17)
Ye have put off the old man with his deeds, And have put on the new man, that is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him; Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3.9-11)
Paul identifies these two ontological states not as an "inward" versus an "outward" being, or as an ontology of the spirit in opposition to an ontology of the body (only sarx, not soma, is absolutely opposed to pneuma), but as two ontologically distinct bodies--on the one hand the "body of the flesh |somatos tes sarkos~" (Colossians 2.11) or the "physical body |soma physikon~," and on the other a "spiritual body |soma pneumatikon~" (1 Corinthians 15.44) newly fashioned by conversion.(35) The "new creature" produced by conversion, the experience Paul describes as being "crucified with Christ" (dying to the sarx) and being reborn as a spiritual body, this "new creature" is not merely a metaphor in Pauline discourse. From a converted perspective, the spiritual body is more literally a real body than the now-destroyed "body of the flesh." To read the "new creature" as a mere figure of speech, signifying a personality change or a new social or ideological identification (although it signifies those, too) is to ignore the orthodox tenet of bodily resurrection built upon Paul's discourse of conversion.
Franklin may indeed have taken Pauline expressions over-literally on occasion, but in this crucial case, his is a hyper-literalism quite central to Christian doctrine. Franklin's misreading of Paul--if it is in fact a misreading--produces his conviction that his fleshly body has already been stripped away and replaced with Christs spiritual body. His error is not that of taking a figurative expression literally, but of announcing the end of that dispensation under which such a dualistic ontology was required. From Franklin's perspective, orthodoxy's dualistic insistence that Christs kingdom is both "now and not yet," that the convert is redeemed and justified, but not yet glorified, is no longer necessary.(36)
Many in 1649 had been encouraged from pulpit and Parliament to see Charles I's defeat and execution as an apocalyptic event which would usher in the physical reign of Christ on earth.(37) It is not surprising, then, that some also expected an end to the heaven/earth dualistic ontology that was supposed to characterize the pre-millennial life of Gods "true Israel." A spiritual body, Christ's body, had been quite literally promised and Franklin was not alone in claiming a literal experience of that promises fulfillment. Paul himself often sounds just such an apocalyptic note: those "baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3.27). Even Calvin does not read this as a metaphorical expression: "So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Thus indeed must we speak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unite together; for we never have naked and empty symbols |baptism~, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence."(38) When Franklin understands Paul's teaching literally, it is his timing and not his hermeneutics that is unorthodox.
In Protestant and Puritan orthodoxy, this apocalyptic literalism is tempered by an ontological equivocation: Christs kingdom and the glorified body it promises are both literally "now" and literally "not yet." Andrew Lincoln repeats the orthodox Puritan position quite aptly: "There can be no attempts to find any short cuts to glory, for although believers already belong to the heavenly commonwealth they cannot yet claim all their rights as citizens."(39) It is not hard to imagine that five months after Charles Is execution, Franklin--among others--was no longer content to be a citizen without a citizens rights; that the much heralded establishment of a "heavenly commonwealth" entitled him to claim those rights. For him, this included the right to the spiritual body Christ promised, a body and a life that truly matters to God because it is the body of his only begotten Son, no longer the old body and life of the flesh which was everything God was not.
Ellis also charges Franklin, Gadbury, and their followers with abusing scripture by personalizing it and applying it "wholly to themselves" (E, 15). Ellis is particularly upset by Gadbury's implicit identification of herself with the Zion of Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 66.7-9), a prophecy understood by Ellis as messianic. While staying at Rev. Woodward's parsonage, Gadbury says she was "taken as a woman in travail" with pains similar to labor pains, but "more painful." In the midst of her pain, she heard a voice saying, "Shall I bring to the birth, and not give strength to bring forth?" (E, 20; Isaiah 66.9). Ellis explains that Gadbury understood these pains to presage "some spirituall, and not any naturall birth," and that she interpreted them as a physical sign, supported by the voice, that someone was about to be converted to belief in Franklin/Christ--the man-child promised by Isaiah's prophecy (E, 9.1). But Ellis dismisses both the pains and the voice as theatrical pretense designed to seduce "any one like to be wrought upon," and is especially distressed that Gadbury would have the blasphemous audacity to claim, even in a "spirituall" sense, to be travailing in the birth of new converts as Paul imaginatively represents himself in Galatians 4.19: "My little children," Paul addresses the Galatian converts, "of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." In applying Paul's metaphor to herself, Gadbury has hyper-literalized in so far as she claims to have felt physical pains and to have heard a voice, but she apparently understood both pains and voice as "of God" and "spirituall," presaging not a physical birth, but the imminent "spirituall birth" of one of Franklin's auditors (E, 22).
Ellis, however, is scandalized. Phyllis Mack astutely observes that the role of ecstatic prophet had been long been described as feminized in Christian, especially sectarian Puritan, tradition. Long despised as the "lowly" and the "last," over-emotional and highly receptive to supernatural influences both good and evil, women were all too likely to serve as vessels for divine revelation or for infernal possession.(40) Paul figures himself as the Galatian's birth-mother and as wet-nurse to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2.7). For a woman to apply the same metaphors to herself, however, automatically threatens to re-literalize, and so re-gender, the very thing such metaphors sought to neutralize--the power and significance of material (particularly mater-ial) generation, Paul's argument in Galatians is precisely that fleshly birth counts for nothing in determining membership in Gods true Israel; the true "sons of Abraham" are born "of the spirit," not the flesh. By metaphorizing his evangelistic and apostolic role as birth-mother, Paul insists that he is more truly a mother than any carnal mother, giving birth to God's true Israel as opposed to a "carnal Israel." For a woman to make the same claim threatens the crucial distinction between the spiritually true mother and the carnal shadow of a spiritual mother. Mack's comments on this are particularly relevant to my argument about Gadbury: "To a sympathetic observer--and there were many--these women visionaries must have appeared almost as living allegories, concrete manifestations of cosmic Womanhood |the birthing-nursing Christ/Paul~. To a hostile observer, they might just as easily have been perceived as agents of the devil."(41)
"Living allegories"--an apt euphemism for the way Protestant typology, as Barbara Lewalski describes it, encouraged believers to regard themselves.(42) "For like as it behoved the thing to bee substancially fulfilled in Christ, which was begun in David," wrote Calvin, "so must it of necessitie come to pass in every of his members."(43) From Gadbury's perspective of an already arrived millennium, her experience with Franklin was nothing less than the substance shadowed forth by the lives of Paul, David, Israel, and the early church. A "living allegory," to a millennialist like Gadbury is precisely not an allegory.
But according to Ellis, a mother, a carnal bearer of children, cannot speak this way without threatening to dissolve the ontological distinction between this world (fleshly bodies) and the next (spiritual bodies). Carnal mothers are the metaphor, the fleshly figures for spiritual mothers like Paul. Here Ellis, not Gadbury, wants desperately to preserve the allegory, the distinction between figure and thing figured. He takes Gadbury to be acting, playing a role without announcing it as such. Or, he hopes that Gadbury is only acting. Even worse, perhaps she was possessed by a devil, and actually gave birth to a dragon or a serpent. If Gadbury did experience a fusing of flesh and spirit, the spirit must have been a demon:
But one thing I may not omit here fit to be inserted, evidenced by a Constable, when the businesse concerning the pretended travails of this woman and her spirituall birth was examined and heard before the Judge of Assize, viz. that he heard from Edward Spradbury that this woman had been in travail, and was delivered; and asking of what she had been delivered, it was answered, of a Dragon, and what she was delivered of, her Lord and Christ had slain it on the bed:--Hence I suppose it was, that so strong a report was sometime raised and carried about the Countrey, as if this woman had been in some reall travail, and had been indeed delivered of a Serpent, or some monstrous birth. (E, 22)
A woman's "experimental" union with Christs glorified body was either a theatrical fraud or the work of the Devil. So, apparently, thought the Justices who suspected that Gadbury, "was delivered of a childe, and had destroyed it" (E, 39). Margaret Woodward's testimony fed the judges' suspicions: she said she had "received what the Queen |Gadbury~ was delivered of; and said, it was of that man which she called Franklin, but in a spiritual manner, perswading them that Franklin was transfigured and had no substance left him" (E, 40). The equivocation built into the word substance in so much Puritan discourse is put under a great deal of strain here. What is a substantial birth? Is it a birth according to the flesh or the spirit? For Gadbury and Franklin, substantial is a synonym for spiritual, since they reject the dualistic ontology of the premillenial past. The substance Franklin and Gadbury, and many others, had been repeatedly encouraged from the pulpit to trust was what Paul called "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Only such substance was truly real; everything else was merely types and shadows. Franklin and Gadbury act on the desire to have done with this distinction, to count here and now as truly real, substantial beings.
They came by this desire honestly. English Protestants as early as Thomas Cranmer had encouraged pious readers to find themselves in the scriptures, to be transformed by an experimental, rather than a merely notional, understanding of the Word. Cranmer asserted that the Bible reader who most profits is not "he that is moste ready in turnyng of the boke, or in saying of it without the boke, but he that is most turned into it, that is most inspired with the holy ghost most in his harte and life, altered and transformed into that thing, which he readeth."(44) Did Gadbury take such encouragement too far, performing, as it were, a parody of Puritan experimentalism? Or was such encouragement never intended for the likes of Gadbury, the uneducated, poor, and even illiterate.(45) Or, more subversively, were the poor and illiterate peculiarly well-positioned to experience being "turned into" the book? Were they the despised outsiders peculiarly singled out by the gospels and by Paul for such an experience of new being?
What scripture Gadbury knew, she knew from preachers like William Sedgwick, who claimed that Christ appeared to him in his study in 1647 and told him "that the world will be at an end within fourteen days."(46) Sedgwick preached that London was the "new Jerusalem," that the Levellers were an incarnation of "Divine Charity that lifts not up it self, but is lifted up; and being lifted up, drawes all after it."(47) In a fast-day sermon to Parliament in 1643, Sedgwick told the members that they should shortly expect the physical reign of the glorified Christ on earth:
Thou shalt be called Hephzipah, and thy Land Beulah, for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy Land shall be marryed. Which is not meant onely of a mysticall and spirituall union of the Church of Christ, but of a visible, outward, and manifest declaration of this marriage: Christ will take his Church by the hand, and publickely owne his people. She shall be a Crowne of Glory in the hand of the Lord, and a Royall Diadem in the hand of thy God, ver. 3. Christ and his Church will stand openly hand in hand: there shall be a publicke solemnization of the marriage of the Lambe, Revel. 19.7. When the Church shall say, Loe this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us. As his people shall see it, so the world shall acknowledge it, and say, Thy maker is thy Husband. Men see it darkely now, and hate them; but they shall see it clearly, and honour them.(48)
Just what is this "it" to which Sedgwick so insistently refers? Gadbury eventually took it to be her life with William Franklin, not her merely "mysticall and Spirituall union" with Christ, but something also "visible, outward, and manifest."
In the heady millenarian atmosphere of the summer following the kings execution, people like Gadbury expected that Christ would come any day now, in the flesh, and draw all unto him. If types and shadows like the king were finally being replaced, many thought it stood to reason that their own shadowy existence would also shortly be replaced by true being and the only true self--Christ. For a poor woman, abandoned by her husband, left with a child, reduced to selling "small Wares, as Laces, Pins, Bandstrings, and other trifles for Gentlewomen" (E, 8), this was indeed a gospel worthy of faith, for it spoke directly to her and of her. It spoke of her as she knew--or wanted to know--herself, without the metaphysical dualisms of "inward" and "outward," spiritual and physical. She was literally the "Spouse of Christ,"a physical manifestation of Christianity's favorite allegory of the Church as wife. By literalizing this figure of Church as spouse, Gadbury threatens orthodoxy's allegorical ontology by which this world is merely a shadow of the next. The Church as spouse had always been figured as Christs other, but conversion promised to make the saint one with Christ. The marriage figure covers the contradiction by replacing the promise of union with the figure of juridical or sexual union, an equivocal union that preserves the otherness of the saint in the most explicit way possible--by gendering the saint as feminine, as the Man-God's other.(49) Being Christs bride figures the saints pre-glorified condition, the condition of being as yet on earth, expectantly awaiting union with the God-Man. Once Jordan is crossed, however, there is only the risen Christ, and he is most certainly not feminine. Bride, wife, and spouse, then, are Christianity's figurations for deferred selfhood, the as yet unfulfilled self of life in the body, in this world, still yearning for the next.
Gadbury's personal literalization of these figures implicitly ignores the distinction between this world and the next. For her, being the Spouse of Christ is already no longer a metaphor. This is profoundly disturbing to the orthodox Ellis for at least two reasons. First, because it exposes orthodox Puritan discourses of the self as more deeply committed to an allegorical understanding of reality than it wishes to admit. Ellis, no less than Sedgwick, believes that all people shall "see it," that the union of Christ and his church is more than a mystical promise, but this "it" that everyone shall literally see must remain absolutely beyond the horizon of this world. Anything this side of the next world can only be a dim and inadequate shadow of the real thing. Otherwise, there's no use for religion at all. Second, what Ellis understands as Gadbury's blasphemous impersonation of the "Spouse of Christ" threatens to expose orthodox Christianity's implicit commitment to understanding real being as exclusively masculine. The church is Christs spouse or bride only by virtue of the fact that it is not yet fully one with Christ. When the promised union is achieved, there will no longer be any need for the category of the feminine. Women, it seems, are not really real; they are only one of this worlds allegories of true being. Other such allegories of true being, we shall see, are "the Jew," the "Papist," the misbeliever, and the "false professor."
Unless allegory meant something very different for Ellis than it did for Franklin and Gadbury, Ellis's oft-repeated charge against the couple of abusing and "sleighting" the scriptures by "Allegorical fancies" seems exactly wrong. Or it serves to mask Ellis's and orthodoxy's deep commitment to a dualistic allegorical ontology. Franklin and his followers frequently responded to charges of abusing the scriptures by explicitly rejecting scripture itself as allegorical "Types and Shadows," which have been superseded by the "Substance" of their own spiritual and physical experience. Margaret Woodward, says Ellis, "told the Justices, that what was in the Scripture, of either Old or New Testament, was but Types and Shadows, which she did not now regard, having the Substance" (E, 40). When the Justices at Winchester told Franklin that "he could not be the Christ, Christ being in Heaven at the right hand of the Father, as the Scripture testifieth, . . . he answered, Those things of the Scripture were gone, and were nothing to him but types and shadows" (E, 41). Ellis reports that Gadbury had much the same attitude towards the scriptures: "The Scripture, when in any conference alledged to her, was generally slighted by her, the greatest Authorities she alledged was her owne visions and revelations, many of which were yet in Scripture-expressions delivered by her that she might deceive the better by them" (E, 19-20).
Each of the two parties, Ellis and the Justices explicitly and Franklin and Gadbury implicitly, charges the other party with having an insubstantial--that is to say, an allegorical--faith. According to Franklin's party, Ellis and the Justices still cling to the "Types and Shadows" of the Bible, resting their faith upon tropologies, analogies, and allegories, receiving Gods promises by way of hermeneutics rather than directly from the spirit now speaking and acting in Franklin's glorified flesh. According to Ellis and the Justices, Franklin and Gadbury have deluded themselves and their followers into believing that the promises of scripture have been spoken directly to them and of them, that they have, in effect, allegorized themselves into biblical characters--Christ, the Spouse of Christ, the mother of Christ (E, 50), "the Kings daughter, all glorious within" (E, 40), John the Baptist, and "one of the destroying Angells mentioned in the Revelation" (E, 31). Franklin and his followers lodge much the same charge against their persecutors that the early reformers lodged against the "Papists" and "Schoolmen"--that of having an insubstantial, overmediated, faith. Ellis counters by charging Franklin and Gadbury with being or pretending to be, virtually living allegories. That is, either they are impersonating biblical characters, or they are sufficiently self-deluded to believe they actually personify biblical characters and live "gospel" lives.
Thus, on both sides, the charge of believing allegories resembles the modern charge of suffering from "false consciousness." It is a euphemism for the charge of misrecognizing reality. Nonconformist and orthodox alike regularly accused each other of suffering from and perpetuating "Allegorical fancies" in place of the truth, as if the single most telling sign of apostasy were the habit of wresting or twisting Gods utterly plain truth allegorically. Puritans of nearly every stripe proclaimed a holy war on equivocation in matters of doctrine, worship, and faith and allegory was taken to be equivocation, par excellence. For the orthodox Ellis, true reality is always other and absent, located in that "World which is to Come." Franklin and Gadbury want their heaven here and now or not at all.
In an important sense, Ellis's charge of misinterpretation misses the point; Franklin and Gadbury's faith rejects interpretation and mediation altogether, claiming that Gods Word, whether in voice, vision, preaching or scripture, has spoken directly to them and of them without the equivocal mediations of interpretation, application, tropologies, or allegories. Theirs is a faith based on hearing a promise unmediated by hermeneutics, grounded in their own experience of the spirit in the flesh. As radically perverse as their faith seemed to the likes of Ellis and the justices, it is, in fact, just such a faith as Reformation teaching from Luther to Richard Sibbes had encouraged, but from which it also carefully and strategically retreated.
"Christianity," says Christopher Kendrick, "is by definition an overcoded, or allegorical medium."(50) Christianity's commitment to a dualistic, two-world, ontology is perhaps most evident in its understanding of the ancient Israelites, what it usually calls "the Jews." Already quite conveniently textualized in scripture, the record of the Israelite experience is read by Christianity as a dramatic fiction, played out across the stage of the world in "real time," as it were, but performed from the start for an other--the audience of Christians whose very exteriority to "the Old Testament" constitutes them as interpreters of the now pseudo-historical 'Jew-drama' in which they find themselves figured forth as Gods "true Israel."(51) In this performance "the Jew" is understood as a character rather than a conscious actor, as if the history of Israel were a play performed by robots, or by the possessed bodies of the always already dead. "The Jews" were taken as figures the true meaning of whose actions was entirely a matter of Gods, not their own, intentions.
Jill Robbins claims that, "Christian hermeneutics, in its very inclusion of the Judaic, also excludes it." She, like Harold Bloom and Mark Taylor, is correct, up to a point.(52) The fourfold method of allegorical interpretation which dominated medieval hermeneutics began as a method designed to "save" the "Old Testament" from Manichean and Marcionite attempts to dismiss it absolutely. The Hebrew scriptures were preserved as part of the Christian canon chiefly by allegorizing them as "the Old Testament." Augustine's famous formulation laid the ground for medieval Christian readings of the Hebrew scriptures: In Veteri Testamento est occultatio Novi, in Novo Testamento est manifestatio Veteris |"In the Old Testament there is a concealment of the New, in the New Testament there is a revelation of the Old"~.(53) As J. S. Preus points out, this method of saving the "Old Testament" by treating it as an occulted version of the New Testament in which the promises and truths of God (literally available in the New) can only be indirectly gathered from the Old by way of allegorical, anagogical, and tropological exegesis, makes a fatal concession to the Marcionite dismissal of the Hebrew scriptures and its God: "Taken in its literal, historical meaning, the Old Testament has little to offer as a book for Christians."(54)
But instead of Marcionite or Manichean rejection of the Israelites, their God, and their scripture, the allegorical method offered a cooptation. This cooptation allows Christianity to take "captive" the God, the history, and the scriptures of Israel while rejecting the Israelites, "the Jews" themselves. Augustine allows that the "Old Testament" contains, in literal senses, some "precepts of righteousness such as we |Christians~ are still enjoined to observe," but the theological and religious center of the Hebrew scriptures, Gods promises of covenant with Israel, are in their literal senses, as they were understood by the ancient Israelites and by contemporary Jews, theologically irrelevant: "The promises of the old covenant are earthly promises. Certain of its ordinances (sacramenta) were shadows (umbrae) of things to come, such as circumcision, the Sabbath, and other observances of days, rules." The true things figured by these umbrae are central to Christianity, but the promises of land, nationhood, and political hegemony are, says Augustine, not real; they are merely earthly figures of Gods real promises, promises made specifically to Christ and anagogically to Christians.(55) In this Christian restructuring of the economy of Gods promises and their intended audience, the Israelite is shifted from being the object of the message and its promise to being the medium through which the message and promise are communicated. As Preus puts it, the Israelites, unfortunately for them, were "unaware that their whole history was an allegory," and when "the Jews" willfully persisted in such unawareness after Christs advent, says Augustine, they were justly punished as idolators.(56)
Preus's painstakingly careful study is entirely devoted to tracing Luther's own shift from the medieval hermeneutic practice outlined above to the allegory-resistant championing of the "literal sense" of scripture which became characteristic of Reformation theology and hermeneutics. I need not reproduce it here. For present purposes, it is enough to note that Luther effected at least a partial de-allegorization of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the Israelites. Luther recovers the ancient covenant as a real covenant, real promises made to real people.(57) For Luther, the Christian is no longer the thing signified by the ancient Israelite. "The Old Testament led him to see that he was still 'as if' (ac si) an Old Testament man, insofar as he had not yet attained, and God had not yet given, that which had been promised. Indeed, it was the Old Testament that unveiled the real situation of the Christian church as like the situation of the 'faithful synagogue'; even the Church was not the 'reale quid Israel' but a testimonium and promise of the eschatological Israel.(58)
Calvin extends Luther's notion of a "faithful synagogue" even more broadly: "The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs. . . . Let no one here quibble and say, that the promises concerning the Gospel, which are contained in the Law and the Prophets, were designed for a new people. . . . Who, then, will presume to represent the Jews as destitute of Christ, when we know that they were parties to the Gospel covenant, which has its only foundation in Christ."(59) Calvin even takes to referring to ancient Israel as simply "the Church." Pre-Reformation allegory drew the crucial divide between shadows and realities, promise and fulfillment, along the dispensational rift between the two testaments. Gods covenant with Israel was taken to be an allegorical drama of his covenant with the Church. The Reformation diminishes this divide, shifting attention to the dividing line of the eschaton, the absolute separation between this world and the next. Thus the ancient Israelite is brought closer, is less completely other. The "Old Testament" is once again read literally as a word of promise to an as yet unglorified people. Imitatio Christi gives way to a new form of piety in which the faithful Hebrew prophet (Isaiah, Daniel, and especially David) is the model for Christian faithfulness--wayfaring and warfaring.(60) Holy Mother Church is no longer the fulfilled Jerusalem, but just another temporal shadow of the "Jerusalem above." In this world, the true church is a pilgrim church, wandering in the wilderness of temporality and flesh.
Although this Reformation shift from a dispensational to an eschatological division of Christianity's two-world ontology is most often interpreted as effecting a de-allegorization of "the Jew," it might just as easily be understood as a re-allegorization of the wayfaring pilgrim Christian. The Reformation Christian, like the medieval allegorists "Jew," must now be seen, not as fulfillment, but as a figure of the fulfillment promised--and so deferred--in the world to come. The Christian must read his experience in this world as an allegory of his being in the next; he or she must oscillate between the roles of fictional figure and exegete of that fictional figure. The Christian in this world is like a personification of the glorified Christian (Christ) of the next. When allegorical personifications or figures interpret their surroundings, their own actions and their positions in the world, they do so as characters in a play or a fiction might do, characters for whom the horizon of the fictional world in which they are staged remains finally opaque, a veil hardly even perceived as a veil let alone seen through. The significance of their being, actions, and even their interpretations of being and actions are never more than figures whose proper exegesis can only be the work of another.(61)
Reformation Christianity offers at least a provisional solution to this problem in the Pauline discourse of "old man" and "new man." Nicely analogous to the distinction between "Old Testament" and "New Testament," the pre-conversion "old man" undergoes in conversion a shift from the status of pseudo-agentive self to object of interpretation. A new self emerges from this shift, constituted as interpreter of the newly textualized old self. "If we were well read in the story of our own lives, we might have a divinity of our own, drawn out of the observation of Gods particular dealing with us," wrote Richard Sibbes.(62) Indeed, it is precisely the act of interpretation which renders the old self old and initiates the new self's being. The old self becomes an allegory out of which the new self--let us call it the hermeneutic self--"reads" divinity, just as medieval hermeneutics read out of the Hebrew scriptures a divinity its Israelite characters could never see. The hermeneutic self must now regard the old self just as medieval hermeneutics regarded the ancient Israelites: "Like a blind man with a lantern who shows the way to others but doesn't see it himself."(63) In short, conversion reconstitutes the old self as "Jew" and the new self as audience and interpreter of the "Jew," endowed with the privileged knowledge neither old self nor Jew can have, of what a "Jew" really is and means.
But the convert's knowledge can never be complete, for the Christian in this world has at best "an earnest" of the new self. He or she is still, in a sense, a worldly figure of the glorified self, still never quite enjoying a perspective that reaches beyond the horizon of this allegorical realm of life "in the flesh." Puritan Christianity equivocates between a new self fully identified with Christ and a new self that is a mere figure of Christ in the world. Thus it anticipates, but stops short of, Hegel's vision of the "union of union and nonunion": "The knowledge of oneself in the externalization of oneself; the being that is the movement of retaining its self-identity in its otherness."(64) Richard Sibbes, an unexceptionably orthodox Puritan, offers a version of this equivocation between the new self and the Christ-self:
So then a true believer, when he is made one with Christ, he reasons thus, My corruption of nature, this pride of heart that naturally I have, this enmity of goodness, this is crucified; for I am one with Christ. When he died, I and my head did die, and this pride and covetousness and worldliness, this base and filthy carnal disposition, was crucified, and I in my head am now risen and sit in heaven. Therefore now I am in some sort glorious.(65)
Sibbes boldly announces that the new self is Christ--"for I am one with Christ"--but this new self is also spoken of as the object of Christs redemptive agency. It is both Christ and other than Christ, other enough to be the object of Christ's adequation of it. In his formulation of the experience of union with Christ, Sibbes employs a string of equivocations calculated to avoid making a claim as boldly transgressive as William Franklin's, or even Paul's. The crucial equivocation of Sibbes's claim concerns the status of the word I, the location of the subjectivity implicit in such a claim. The Pauline claim is more explicit about the objective status of the self and its body--"not I but Christ in me," and "for me to live is Christ." The I of Sibbes's claim is never negated. It is not transformed into a "me," the fully abject object of Christs agency. Things the I once possessed--"corruption of nature . . . pride of heart . . . this base and carnal filthy disposition"--are erased or "crucified" and the subjectivity revealed or liberated by this erasure of carnality, the place from which the self now speaks, is absolutely identified with Christ--"for I am one with Christ." Thus, Sibbes comes exceedingly close to Franklin's claim.
What keeps Sibbes's claim from becoming transgressively radical, like those of Franklin and Gadbury, is that he makes it indirectly. It is pronounced as the reasoning of a "he," presumably another person, a "true believer." No doubt Sibbes would class himself as a true believer, but by couching his claim ex propria persona and by hedging it with a suggestion of temporal deferment--"when he is made one with Christ"--Sibbes avoids the transgression of a William Franklin or a James Nayler. In the final sentence, the nearly transgressive "Now I am . . . glorious" is held in check by the interpolation of "in some sort." Sibbes's I oscillates between the deferred subjectivity to be realized only in the "world to come" and the very present subjectivity of a fully regenerated self. Sibbes's "true believer" announces that he has been crucified with Christ, but only "in my head," and though he claims to be risen and "glorified," this is also "in my head." This equivocation keeps I distinct from Christ even in the act of announcing the erasure of that distinction.
Sibbes's equivocations effectively preserve a dualistic, allegorical ontology even as he announces the unmediated literalism towards which Puritan soteriology gestures.(66) He allegorizes his own authorial voice as that of a "true believer." What once defined the self--"corruption of nature . . . pride of heart . . . this base and carnal filthy disposition"--are allegorized into things the self possesses.(67) The temporal condition-"when"--which governs the entire reported speech of the allegorized self, keeps the chiliastic "now" of the last two sentences in allegorical check. And, as if all this were not enough, in the last sentence, Sibbes covers his chiliastic copulative, "I am," with the re-allegorizing "in some sort," signaling Puritan allegory's crucial equivocation as it both encourages and disallows the claim of identity with God.
Reformed Christianity, then, remains more committed than ever to allegorical ontology. It is incessantly about the business of othering. It others the self and the world into Gods allegory of himself and his "kingdom"; it others the past as an allegory of the present and the present as an allegory of the future. And Christianity's names for the other, whether it be the other self, the other of the past, or the other of the present (as viewed from eternity), is "the Jew," the Synagogue, the carnal Jerusalem, the whore, the flesh, the world, and the devil. The Christian is no longer the meaning of "the Jew," the fulfillment of the 'Jew-drama,' but instead a latter-day "Jew" ever reading and re-reading the story of his own life, seeking a "divinity of our own, drawn out of Gods particular dealing with us." In short, Reformation thought textualizes the Christian much as medieval theology textualized ancient Israel.
Erasmus, in his Paraclesis (1529), somewhat hyperbolically insisted that the Christ revealed in the scriptures was more real, more living, than the Christ manifested in the Son of Man: "These writings bring you the living image of his Holy mind and the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ Himself, and thus they render Him so fully present that you would see less if you gazed upon him with our very eyes."(68) Erasmus's privileging of a textualized Christ over an incarnate Christ anticipates the Puritan Christ who, Richard Sibbes insists, is most present, not in scriptures, but in Christians themselves:
Who keeps Christ alive in the world, but a company of Christians that carry his resemblance? . . . He lives in them, and Christ is alive no otherwise in the world then in the hearts of gracious Christians, that carry the picture and resemblance of Christ in them.(69)
So far as the eternally divine Christ, the other-than-human being, is in the world at all (which, of course, is really not at all), he appears not on the altar of transubstantiation, not in a text, or in mere words, but in mortal Christians who carry his resemblance in their hearts, in their inmost being. Sibbes equivocates between resemblance and living. The Christ within is at once the redeemed new self and the hollow space left by the death of the old self. He is at once present ("alive no otherwise") and represented ("picture and resemblance"), that is, absent. Christians both are Christ re-presented and the carriers of his representation, his "picture." Sibbes's key equivocation between being and representation is the phrase "in the world," an equivocation that maintains the allegorical nature of the Christians experience. The Christian, like the "Old Testament Jew," still dwells in the shadows of unfulfilled promise.
Reformation thought presses the boundaries of Christianity's perennially contradictory distinctions, and threatens to blow it apart at its imperfectly sutured seams. The absolute distinction between Christian and Jew gives way to something like the Christian as a more real Jew. The distinction between the divine and the human, which constitutes each as the lack of the other, gives way to the divinity that takes up residence in the space hollowed out by the death of the old self. In Christ, human and divine remain distinct in "substance," but united "in person," as if personhood, the place where the distinction between human and divine is lost or transcended, were something entirely unsubstantial. The reformation Christian is at once allegory and exegete and expects one day to be fulfilled as the thing signified.
Holding these contradictions both apart and together is allegory, what Paul de Man calls the "rhetoric of temporality" which installs and maintains deferral and so difference. In de Mans terms, we might say that Reformation thought, especially in its Puritan versions, pushes asymptotically closer to symbolism and a cult of the transcendental moment outside of time, always retreating from the threshold of such transgression even as it locates its hope and the object of its faith on the other side of an allegorical ontological divide.
In the world of the symbol |the world of transubstantiation violently denied by the Reformation~ it would be possible for the image to coincide with the substance, since the substance and its representation do not differ in their being but only in their extension: they are part and whole of the same set of categories. Their relationship is one of simultaneity, which, in truth, is spatial in kind, and in which the intervention of time is merely a matter of contingency, whereas in the world of allegory, time is the originary constitutive category. . . . Whereas the symbol postulates the possibility of an identity or identification, allegory designates primarily a distance in relation to its own origin, and, renouncing the nostalgia and the desire to coincide, it establishes its language in the void of this temporal difference. In so doing, it prevents the self from an illusory identification with the non-self, which is now fully, though painfully, recognized as a non-self.(70)
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|Author:||Luxon, Thomas H.|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1993|
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