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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2020

Chapter 8 - Spacetime


Salvation History and Passion

In Christian thought, the concept of salvation history is based upon a paradox. Salvation is thought of in temporal terms, grounded in a progression and the meaning-filled order of this progression in the form of history. At the same time it is thought of in supratemporal terms— the idea of salvation, after all, refers to a plenitude in which time would be sublated and all times would be united in a single, coeternal totality. Time is held to be the necessary complement to the world: created at the same time as the world (as was widely believed in the Middle Ages), time serves— in the form of history— as a form of intuition. In time, man is capable of experiencing the God-given principles of salvation history. At the same time, however, he must learn that time— always-already related to its end— can ultimately only be grasped in the mode of transcendence. However much time can be understood as the condition of possibility for a meaningful order, it is nonetheless also inscribed with the unavailability of the final meaning of this order. This results in both optimistic and skeptical positions with respect to the knowability of temporal-historical teleology, and above all attempts to bridge the gap between eternity and temporality: by understanding the eternal as something that appears in the temporal; by attempting to systematize an increasingly complex history as an orderly continuity; by demonstrating that not only earthly, but also heavenly relations are calculable; and by linking the core moments of universal salvation history with the temporality of human subjects.

These are some of the tendencies present in the late Middle Ages for dealing with salvation history, eternity, and temporality. They frequently refer to the figure of Christ, who was linked early on not only to the conception of a “middle” of time, but also to that of a mediation between eternity and temporality. From the twelfth to the thirteenth century, this occurred with particular frequency with reference to the Passion. In the form of the Passion, the temporal paradox becomes, as a medial paradox, capable of both negotiation and figuration— in that the relationship between the human and the divine is not worked out in abstract theological categories but in concrete, material forms. In each case, these forms bring with them their own unique temporalities, in which the supratemporal can appear.

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