Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Gospel of Judas According to Jorge Luis Borges

The tiresome and hidebound traditions of Easter are upon us again. I speak not of Easter Bunnies, jellybeans, and dyed eggs, nor joyous Christians proclaiming that "Christ is Risen, Indeed!" but rather I refer to the obligatory trashing of Christian orthodoxy arising as if automatically from the Anything But Christianity factions of the American media. The upcoming release of The Da Vinci Code has brought out the worst in this sector.

National Geographic, once an institution of deserved admiration, has cashed in its reputation to sensationalize a new collection of papyri called the Gospel of Judas, mimicking Dan Brown's contention that orthodox Christianity covered up "what really happened." Many other competent efforts have already been written to deride and to debunk the dismal tabloid-quality "true histories" appearing in the national press, and some of these writings have been ably collected in one location by the enviable Amy Welborn.

Therefore to avoid redundant whippings of those tiresome irreverent hipsters who are denouncing orthodox Christianity as squaresville, I'll simply excerpt an acknowledged work of fiction by Jorge Luis Borges. His story titled "Three Versions of Judas" has the style of a thinly-disguised imaginary scholarly article. Borges creates a theologian by the name of Nils Runeberg, who through the course of his research develops several different understandings of Judas Iscariot. To the excerpt:

The first edition of Kristus och Judas bears the following categorical epigraph, whose meaning, years later, Nils Runeberg himself would monstrously expand: "Not one, but all of the things attributed by tradition to Judas Iscariot are false." Preceded by a German, De Quincey speculated that Judas reported Jesus to the authorities in order to force him to reveal his divinity and thus ignite a vast rebellion against the tyranny of Rome...

These fictional thelogians' ruminations resemble a recent controversy over the role of Judas, which focused upon the proper translation of the Greek word "paradidomi." Judas, the argument held, actually just "handed over" instead of "betrayed" Christ, for reasons described in words similar to those of Borges. This controversy was likewise reported in an utterly predicatable fit of anti-orthodox media frenzy. It would be very amusing to think that this artificial news story could have begun with a lazy theologian paging through the stories of the magical realist Borges.

Another later development in the thought of Borges' "Runeberg" begins with Isaiah 52:2-3: "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Borges describes the eccentric's exegesis as follows:

...for Runeberg, the punctual prophesy not of a moment but of the whole atrocious future, in time and in eternity, of the Word made flesh. God made Himself totally a man but a man to the point of infamy, a man to the point of reprobation and the abyss.

Judging from what little I have read of Hans Urs von Balthasar's more elaborate and probably heretical ruminations on Good Friday and the descent into hell. Balthasar pushed the idea of Christ's self-emptying kenosis up to, if not past, the breaking point seeming at times to separate the person of Christ from the Trinity itself. Paradoxically, there is a prima facie similarity between Borges' heretic and one of the most prominent and least disobedient Catholic theologians of the twentieth century! But Borges continues:

To save us, He could have chosen any of the destinies which make up the complex web of history; He could have been Alexander or Pythagoras or Rurik or Jesus; He chose the vilest destiny of all: He was Judas.

Unlike von Balthasar, who died a cardinal-elect, The fictonal theologian's life did not end well:

Drunk with insomnia and vertiginous dialectic, Nils Runeberg wandered through the streets of Malmo, begging at the top of his voice that he be granted the grace of joining his Redeemer in Hell.

Like Runeberg, all the faddish heresies on display this year end up calling hell the true Heaven. This revolutionary(!) secret has been improbably but effectively hidden by the unthinking dogmatists of the Christian church for two millennia, until courageous journalists and free-thinking professors bring the truth to light in their writings--now in paperback and coming soon to the big screen! By some trick of logic, this ancient church is supposed to have been simultaneously entirely corrupt and obscurantist, yet also omnicompetent in its suppression of this heresy, which was of course the real orthodoxy. To expand a Chestertonian aphorism: if the Catholic Church was not founded by Christ, it was indubitably founded by Antichrist.

And so polemics have come full-circle, and elite media is once again voicing the anti-papal polemics of the Reformation, this time combining such harsh words with a luciferian antipathy towards God Himself.

Lord, have mercy on our human folly!

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