Bailie on “The Spirit”

Excerpt from Gil Bailie’s Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (Crossroads, 1995), pp. 225-228.


 

“The Spirit”

In John’s Gospel, the crucifixion and the resurrection are the same thing. The Johannine Jesus had repeatedly said that when he was “lifted up” — meaning hung on the Cross — he would begin to draw all of humanity to himself. Whether some form of this claim goes back to the historical Jesus is, of course, uncertain, but even if the claim originates with the evangelist in the late first century, it is a bold, almost brazen claim. The striking and irrefutable fact is that history has borne it out. That is all the more reason to marvel at the prescience of the Fourth Gospel. Explicitly and with a calm assurance that in the hindsight of two thousand years is astonishing, the Gospel of John predicts that the crucifixion will have the most sweeping effects on human history.

The last words of the Johannine Jesus, spoken from the Cross, are: “It is accomplished.” The verb used here, telein, means to bring to completion, but the deeper issue is not the predicate but the subject of the sentence. What is accomplished? What is brought to fulfillment? What is brought to an end?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus pronounces the prologue to his own passion with these words:

Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself. (John 12:31-32)

The crucifixion both “accomplishes” the decisive demystification of the demonic powers and inaugurates the historical epoch in which these powers — and the social and psychological structures based upon them — will undergo a progressive delegitimization, as the Crucified One gradually draws all of humanity to himself. As Rudolf Schnackenburg put it, “The ruler of the world encounters the final rejection, loses his sphere of influence, becomes powerless — over those who look up in faith to the crucified Jesus and let themselves be ‘drawn’ to him.” (1)

According to the fourth evangelist, the spiritual and anthropological revolution set in motion by the crucifixion is a glacial process the driving force of which is the “Spirit of Truth” — the Paraclete. It was to be the task of this Spirit of Truth to gradually “accomplish” historically what was “accomplished” in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples at the crucifixion and in the days that followed it. As I have said, the Greek word Parakletos means a “counselor” or “advocate.” More precisely, it means one who defends the “accused one.” The Paraclete is the planetary spirit who deconstructs the myths and mystifications spewed forth by Satan, the perennial “Accuser.” Jesus, speaking of the Paraclete, said:

. . . unless I go,
the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I do go,
I will send him to you.
And when he comes,
he will show the world how wrong it was,
about sin,
about who was in the right,
and about judgment. (John 16:7-8)

The world would continue to hold itself together and make itself coherent by channeling its violence toward expendable victims. Cultures and subcultures in the grip of the “father of lies” would continue to drown out the victim’s voice with myths and incantations and slogans. But from the moment of the crucifixion onward, the Paraclete would be at work in the world, slowly giving the victim’s voice the ability, in the haunting words of Whittaker Chambers, to sweep away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, and whatever contemporary myths might lend violence a momentary aura of righteousness. However formidable the structures of the sacrificial system might be, however beguilingly and discretely these structures might resort to their scapegoating mechanisms, relentlessly the Paraclete would “show the world how wrong it was,” gradually leading humanity to “the complete truth” (John 16:8, 13).

Had not the crucifixion loosened the grip that the primitive sacred had on the human imagination, we would probably find Caiaphas’s view on the matter far more intelligible than Paul’s. Without the crucifixion we would still be living in one of the cultural subdivisions thoroughly under the spell of what the Fourth Gospel calls the father of lies and the murderer from the beginning. No doubt some amelioration of sacred violence would have occurred, but without something structurally equivalent to the Gospels, something with an anthropological and historical purview comparable to that which the Gospels have achieved, all critiques of the structures of sacred violence would be taking place from within these structures.

Once you show the world the picture of this planet taken from the moon, try as you may to resuscitate them, there are certain parochial myths that simply cannot be revived and sustained. The effect of the crucifixion is precisely the same, only with vastly greater anthropological significance. The gospel can neither be annihilated nor can its historical momentum be arrested because the process of arresting or annihilating it would be structurally identical to the crucifixion itself and would therefore have the effect of supplying the revelation with yet another proof of its historical pertinence. The Johannine Jesus said that once he was raised up on the Cross he would draw all humanity to himself, that gradually the sight of this innocent man on the gallows would become more compelling than all of conventional culture’s techniques for making sanctioned violence morally respectable. By the time the biblical scholars finally succeed in disproving the “authenticity” of this saying and demonstrating beyond all scholarly doubt that it was never spoken by the historical Jesus, it will have been fulfilled in ways that the average ten-year-old will be able to recognize.

1. Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St. John, 2:392.

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