An Excerpt for James Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (New York: Crossroad, 1998), pages 211-221.

We have followed the way in which the presence to the disciples of the Crucified and Risen Lord was the presence to them of forgiveness. This has enabled us to see how the whole recasting of their world, for which the evidence lies in their apostolic witness, was made possible starting from the historical presence of redemption. In doing this we have been attempting, thanks to mimetic theory, to reproduce something of the coherent inner dynamic which structures that witness. There is, however, another dimension of the apostolic witness to which we must look if we are to grasp the shape of what we now call original sin, and that is a further eschatological depth of the presence of the Risen Lord: that the Resurrection was in the flesh. Girard has this to say at the end of his treatment of the scene from Shakespeares The Winter's Tale where the (supposed) statue of Hermione comes to life, thus producing the conversion of her husband, whose heart had been hardened against her by jealousy:

The more we examine the statue scene, the more we are reminded of what the resurrection is supposed to be, a resurrection of the flesh, in contradistinction to the vaporous world of spirits conjured up by mimetic idolatry. The delayed recognition of Jesus has nothing to do with a lesser visibility of his resurrected body due to the lesser reality of the shadowy afterlife to which he now would belong. The opposite is true. This resurrection is too real for a perception dimmed by the false transfigurations of mimetic idolatry. (1)
We have seen, in effect, how in the light of Christ's resurrection and as theology and anthropology were able to become distinct but related realities, two workings of mimetic desire could be detected: the purely pacific, creative mimesis at work in the Trinity; and the rivalistic mimesis which is a distortion of that, mimesis as grasped rather than received, which we have seen to underlie the psychology and anthropology of "fallen" sociality, and which constitutes what we know as history.

We have gone further than that, in fact, since we have seen the way in which the beneficent creative mimesis entered into history in a creative human project to enable us to leave our systematic dead end, and thus fulfil the original intention of the Creator that we should be active participants in the Glory of God as creatures, as sons in the Son. Central to that possibility is the understanding that the man Jesus should have had, as he walked on earth, a creative imagination entirely formed by the pacific mimesis of love between the Father and himself. It is to this that John gave witness, as I set out in the previous chapter.

I attempted to characterize the content of Jesus' creative imagination by suggesting that it was an imagination unshaded by death: here I do not mean simply immortal (as though immortality were a simple concept), but that the cultural reality of death was not interior to it, enclosing it within its parameters, as is the case with 'fallen' humans. It was not the debased mind of Romans 1:28 or the senseless heart of Romans 1:21. That is to say, it did not share in the shading into futility of minds that are unable to perceive created reality in the light of God. Jesus' creative imagination, being unshaded by death, had, as the constant background to his action and project the real creative sense of God's creative reality. It was this which lay behind the project he inaugurated to enable humans to become active participants in this creative reality, a project which depended on his being able to treat death as if it were not. The creative alterity of God, and the (I am tempted to say tangible) reality of that creative alterity were perceived, and talked about by Jesus during his life and ministry. I am going to refer to this creative imagination which rests on, and derives energy from, the creative alterity of God as the "eschatological imagination." (2)

The Eschatological Imagination

We are now able to look at a curious, and apparently embarrassing, aspect of the apostolic witness in a somewhat new light. It has long been noticed (since Weiss and Schweitzer) that the entire New Testament is soaked in eschatology. From 1 Thessalonians to the Apocalypse, including all the Gospels, the eschatological dimension is evidently present. One problem has been how to understand this dimension. Much of the discussion has been in terms of the so-called "expectation of the imminent end" which was held to have characterized the apostolic period, and about which Paul, and probably Jesus, were held to have been simply mistaken. A further problem has been that of the language of the apostolic witness, which manifestly holds with extreme tenacity to the passing away of this world, and the coming into being of the definitive world. Where this has been interpreted in terms of the apocalyptic currents which flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean during this period, it evidently creates an embarrassment for several generations of theologians and believers who have attempted, in the light of the thought of Hegel and Marx, to take human history, and its possible salvific dimension, seriously.

The discussion has largely taken place in terms of a dilemma between what is often labeled as "Platonism" and "realism," or the suspicion that the language of the passing away of this world, and the putting on of the incorruptibility, or imperishability, proper to the "next" world is a form of idealism which represents an escape from historical responsibility, and thus should be shunned out of faithfulness to the Gospel's demands of taking seriously the bringing about of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Part of the goad behind the discussion has been the famous jibe about religion being the opiate of the people, and a certain mauvaise conscience about the accusation that Christian preaching has encouraged people to postpone hope of a better life to the hereafter, and has thus failed to encourage practical participation in such changes as could reasonably ameliorate the present life.

I would suggest that mimetic theory enables us to break out of the horns of these two problems in a way totally coherent with the inner dynamic we have been pursuing thus far, and that it enables us to see the importance of a theology of Original Sin of the sort I have been attempting in letting us off the hooks, simultaneously, of the apparent problem of the delay of the "parousía," and that of the playing down of "this" world. This may offer a contribution towards the plea made recently by A. Gesché for the incorporation of une eschatologique in the theology of liberation:

I know that a transhistorical, "celestial" eschatology can become an escape from history. But I'm not sure that is necessarily so. And I wonder whether, in our world today, the hiding away of a supernatural salvation, of an eschatological salvation in the strong sense, doesn't do harm to the historical salvation which we seek to bring about. Better still, it may be that it is a decisive task for us, and one which awaits us all, for we have all fallen short in this domain, to demonstrate not only that the "supernatural" does indeed exist, but that it is . . . historical. It is historical because human history does include within itself a "supernatural" and transhistorical dimension. (3)
First, let us face the full force of the eschatological expression that we find in the New Testament. In the earliest texts Paul tells the Thessalonians that "you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2); and that this day has as its content the Lord Jesus "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:7-8). At the latest end of the apostolic witness, in 2 Peter 3:10, we also have the assurance that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief." It is at least plausible that the link of the Day with a thief in the night goes back to Jesus himself, and the sayings recorded at Matthew 24:42-44 and Luke 12:39-40.

In the time in between the text of Thessalonians and that of 2 Peter there has however, been a change in the perception of how that "Day" is to be understood, a change that is evidenced even within the writings of Paul himself. In the first letter to the Corinthians Paul tells his audience:

Now if any one builds on the foundation [which is Jesus Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)
Rather than there being any emphasis on the Day as a certain moment, it has become a principle of revelation of a certain sort of continuity between this world and the next. The notion of "time" is also changing, since Paul tells his audience that "the appointed time has grown very short" (1 Cor. 7:29), and this is a reason for a certain sort of dealing with the world "as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Paul has also had time to think more clearly about the relationship between this world and the next, and is able to explain about the different sorts of corporality that correspond to each: the one perishable and mortal, and the other imperishable and immortal (1 Cor. 15:35-58).

By the time we get to 2 Peter, the relationship between time and the "Day" has changed to such an extent that it has become important to explain this to the audience by means of a piece of what one can only call "biblical metaphysics" -- to the horror of those who see metaphysical thought as simply a betrayal of the evangelical message. The audience have to be told that

with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet. 3:8-9)
The notion of the Day has become detached from any ordinary understanding of time, and has become the turning point of the dissolution of this world, and the coming of new heavens and a new earth. Furthermore the changing understanding of the Day now embraces the possibility of salvation -- time exists for repentence, not as a threat of a day of vengeance.

The corresponding process in the Gospels can be seen in the way in which even as early as Mark apocalyptic language has been subverted. Thus the coming of the Son of Man, for which the disciples are told to watch -- "for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning" (Mark 13:35) -- is then indicated as coming in the handing over (4) from the Last Supper in the evening, in the arrest at midnight, in Peter's betrayal and the trial before the priests at cockcrow, and then in the morning at the trial before Pilate. Jesus' prophecy of his coming before the chief priest appears to relate to his crucifixion. (5) This process of the concentration of eschatology in the key Christological moments of the death and resurrection culminates in what is referred to (since Dodd) as the "realized eschatology" to be found in John's Gospel, where again it is in the exaltation of the Son of man (John 3:14-15) on the Cross that to eschaton irrupts into human history.

That there is a process of development within the New Testament with regards to the understanding of eschatology is denied by no one. Of course the interpretations of this process differ very widely. However, is it necessary to see this process as in fact the evidence of the primitive Christian community, and possibly Jesus himself, simply as having been mistaken about the imminence of the end? According to this view, Jesus and the apostolic witnesses would have had their world view formed entirely within the apocalyptic imagination, and would thus have expected an imminent end. It would have been the weight of the reality of the end (the Day) not coming that gradually obliged the thought of the apostolic group to develop towards a realized eschatology, and turned the "hope" that related so urgently to that end in the earlier epistles into the "patience" that comes to the fore in the later texts of the canon.

There is another, and completely different possible interpretation, which is in line with the understanding of the development of the apostolic witness in the light of the resurrection that I have been attempting to set out: this is that the (unquestioned) development amongst the apostolic circle in the first century happened not because of the obligatory weight of "reality," but was part of the coherent internal development of the witness itself. We have seen how the presence to the apostolic witnesses of the crucified and risen Lord gradually produced a change in the understanding of who God was and what it is to be human. In this way there was gradually and simultaneously opened up the possibility of the perception of God as not only without any sort of violence, but indeed as gratuitous self-giving love; linked to this was the view of human kind as having been locked into a certain sort of reciprocal violence which disfigured the perception of God, but now being enabled to move out of that violence and that perception. In this way, I suggested, both theology and anthropology began to break out of a certain anthropomorphic language within which both had been insufficiently distinct.

It is at the very least plausible that what we have in the development of eschatological language from the "day of vengeance" to the Johannine realized eschatology is a different aspect of the same process: the process by which Jesus' own subversion of the apocalyptic owing to his own "eschatological imagination," of the sort I have outlined above, became able to be understood by people whose imaginations were thoroughly formed in the apocalyptic imagination of the surrounding ambience.

There are certain obvious ways in which Jesus' teaching, as attested by all the Gospels, was subversive of the three dualities that W. Meeks (6) has shown to be characteristic of apocalyptic thought. These three dualities are the cosmic (heaven/earth), the temporal (this age/the age to come) and the social (sons of light, elect, righteous / sons of dark, the "world," unrighteous). Jesus was manifestly subversive of the social duality, as evidenced by his fellowship with sinners, and such parables as that of the pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple. That he was subversive of the cosmic duality is shown in his preaching of the Kingdom as coming about now: "today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21), "the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15), "but if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28), and in the petition of the Lord's Prayer "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That he was also subversive of the temporal duality is shown by his practice, and recommendation, of celibacy lived now for the kingdom, linked with his understanding that this is the condition of life lived in the resurrection (Matt. 19:10-12, linked to Matt. 22:23-33).

There is good prima facie reason, then, to think that the subversion of the apocalyptic imagination by what I have called Jesus' "eschatological" imagination is something proper to Jesus rather than something invented by a bewildered primitive community in the face of the indefinite postponement of the Day. The prima facie evidence deepens somewhat when we discover that at the root of Jesus' subversion of these dualities we always find what I have earlier called the intelligence of the victim. Jesus provides a prophetic criterion in terms of realizable ethical demands at the base of his subversion of these dualities: the social duality is recast in terms of the victim, so that the victim becomes the criteria for sheep or goats (Mt 25), or for being a neighbor (Lk 10); it is victims and the precariously placed who are to be at the center of the new victim people of whom is the Kingdom of God that is coming into being (Mt 5-6). It can scarcely be surprising that this insistence, more in the line of the prophetic than in that of the apocalyptic imagination, comes to be also subversive of the temporal and cosmic dualities. Thus the crucified and risen forgiving victim becomes himself the presence of the kingdom in the here and now. It is this that is being claimed in the "realized eschatology" of John: that the victim is the judge as victim, and that passing into eternal life is exactly related to the criterion of the victim. The same is shown, exactly, in the heavenly liturgy of the Apocalypse: the central criterion, around which the eternal liturgy revolves, and thus the principle of continuity between this life and the next, is the slaughtered lamb, the heavenly victim.

It is then at least plausible to suggest that the presence to the disciples of the crucified and risen victim is also the principle by which the duality of this age/the age to come is subverted, and a quite different understanding of time itself starts to come into being. This understanding might be characterized as that of time which is able to participate in eternity, as opposed to time which is bent away from eternity. Where time is bent away from eternity, there can only be a dualism of opposition between this age and the age to come, and the irruption of God into human history must be a violent one, bringing to an end the present age, and starting a new one. However, where the heavenly reality of the crucified and risen victim is already present to the apostolic group, permitting the beginnings of a life and human sociality that is not marked by death, but whose members are free to lead lives of self-giving in imitation of Jesus because of their faith in the death-less nature of God, then there is a continuity already started between this age and the next. Human time itself, an inalienable dimension of the physical human creatureliness, has begun to be able to participate in eternal life.

What I am proposing here is simply another aspect of what was already proposed with relation to the way the presence of the crucified and risen Lord to the apostolic group broke down the social duality between Jew and Gentile, as evidenced in Acts. There is no doubt that the process by which the universality of the new people was brought into being by the risen victim was a difficult process: Peter had to be pushed by God into baptising Cornelius; there were many conflicts over circumcision; Paul had to fight for years for it to be absolutely clear that there was no longer any social duality thanks to Christ. That is to say the consequences of what was already present in nuce at Pentecost were not grasped immediately, and the apostolic witness precisely gives evidence of the difficult process by which a truth inherent in the resurrection of the crucified victim became "received" or incarnated in the life of the Church. No one now suggests that it was the "weight of reality" (hordes of gentiles forcing themselves in) crushing against the Berlin Wall of an obstinate apostolic clinging to some misguided belief of Jesus' that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, that caused the development from Judaism to Catholicism. The inner coherence between the resurrection and the universality of the new faith is evident now, even if it wasn't at first.

What I am suggesting is that exactly the same slow and conflictual process is at work in the relationship between the apostolic group and "time." (7) That is to say, that it took considerable time before the full force of the consequences of Jesus' eschatological imagination, made available at the Resurrection, was able to work the subversion of the prodigious inertia of cultural understanding (and the apocalyptic imagination proper to small, threatened groups of people) allowing that eschatological imagination to be possessed by the Church. Of course, as the apostolic witness testifies, there were Christians, probably many Christians, who did think in terms of an imminent coming of the end, and for whom its delay was a matter of scandal (just as there were those who thought that all Christians ought to be circumcised). However, the apostolic teaching on this matter was not an "explaining away" an embarrassment, but the slow outworking of a coherence internal to the presence of the crucified and risen victim, part of the irruption into the here and now of the definitive eschatological presence of God and the new human relationality which that makes possible.

We can begin to understand then something of the depth of Jesus' saying that not even the Son of man knows of the end (Mark 13:32), and why it is not important that he should know. The important thing is the beginning of the living out of the deathless time participating in eternity even now, something that already happens before this generation passes away. It is this new time that from henceforth counts. The time that is passing away, the time of human history, is no longer a theological reality, and it will come to an end when it comes to an end -- the Father knows when; this is not because of some future divine irruption in violence, but because it is abandoned to itself, no longer a theological reality. The theological reality is rather "redeeming the time, for the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16, see Col. 4:5). Any final "apocalypse" will be of purely human making, the outworking of the dynamism of death-related rivalistic desire. When finally history does work itself out to an end, there will be already present within it the criterion for its judgement: the coming of the victim in glory, whose presence had been hidden by the vain powers of this world for as long as they lasted.

What I have been attempting to describe is the coming into being of what I have called "the eschatological imagination." The important thing is that this be understood to be the slow working out of the same dynamic that we have seen with relation to the emergence of the theology that later became called trinitarian, and the anthropology that later became characterised as one marked by original sin. As the deathlessness and non-violence of the Father came to be appreciated, as well as the love that raised the creatively forgiving victim, so the continuity between this creation and the new creation was able to be understood, and a new sort of practical human involvement in eternal life starting now was made possible. This of course means that as the eschatological imagination emerged, so a certain sort of participation in time and history came to be seen as redundant or futile: the original sin from which we have been set free can be seen, on our way out of it, as being so deeply anterior to us that it involves us in living memory, time, and history in a radically distorted way.

Before I engage the anthropological consequences of this understanding there is a further point to be brought out about the eschatological imagination as it emerged in the apostolic witness, and that is a point linked to Girard's remark, quoted above, about the reality of Jesus' resurrection in the flesh being difficult to perceive because of the disciples perception formed in mimetic idolatry. There is no doubt but that the apostolic group did possess a very firm hope in the reality of the world that was coming, and in its physical and corporeal reality. (8) That is to say that, as they became possessed by the eschatological imagination, so their minds were set free from the vanity discussed in the previous chapter: the futility of those not able to make the link between created reality and God. The new perception of God enabled a completely new and refreshing relationship to God's dynamic creativity as a reality already coming into being. Indeed it is the setting of the mind on this reality felt to be more real than the surrounding reality-which-is-passing-away which was to give the joy and peace necessary to be able to support the tribulations of the present time, tribulations including the believer's own distorted desires (Col. 3:1-5).

Of course, as the eschatological imagination emerged, and the apocalytpic imagination waned, the structuring of this hope changed: it began to be seen that this hope was internally structured by patience, or the ability to put up with the vicissitudes of this world. Hence the emergence of patience as an important virtue by the end of the canon: not patience in the sense of "ceasing to be impatient" for the coming of the End, but patience in the sense of being able to resist, or undergo, the troubles of the sort of time that is on its way out of being because one is fixed on a coming into being that is much more real and wholesome and nourishing to the imagination. The important thing to notice as this change in the structure of hope took place is that what we are witnessing is not a diminution of eschatological urgency. It is not as though the process towards a realised eschatology was also the process towards a thoroughly banal liberal unconcern about the next world. The urgency for the coming into being of the new world is just as strong, and is an essential part of the eschatological imagination as received in the Church from Jesus. What has altered is the perception of the structuring of the alterity which gives grounds for that urgency, as the notion of time became simultaneously redeemable (time as being made capable of participating in eternity) and evil (time bent away from eternity and as abandoned to its own futility). Now the urgency is fixed on the deathless creativity of God in which we will be able to participate fully as we persevere in doing good.

What I would like to suggest now is that it is in so far as we have an eschatological imagination urgently fixed on the deathless creativity of God that it becomes possible for us to do good. As our desires become retrained towards the promise of a reality that really is desirable, and towards which we tend in urgent hope (for where our treasure is there also is our heart, Matt. 6:21), so we are enabled to become sufficiently untied from the world of our present desires to be able to work justice within this world. It is under this, eschatological, prism that it becomes possible for us to look at what might be meant by concupiscentia.


1. René Girard, A Theater of Envy -- William Shakespeare (New York: Oxford UP, 1991), 342; my emphasis.

2. For a further look at several themes of this chapter see my Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination (New York: Crossroad, 1996).

3. From "Les théologies de la libération et le mal" in Le mal (Paris: Cerf, 1993), 154. The translation is my own, but the emphasis is proper to the author.

4. "Handing over" and "betrayal" are the same word in Greek

5. For further details see T.J. Radcliffe "'The coming of the Son of Man': Mark's Gospel and the subversion of the 'apocalyptic imagination,'" in B. Davies (ed), Language, Meaning and God (London: Chapman, 1987), 176-189.

6. See "Social Functions of Apocalyptic Language in Pauline Christianity" in D. Hellholm (ed.), Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (Tübingen, 1983), 689, mentioned in T.J.Radcliffe, art.cit.

7. It is no accident that it is in Luke/Acts, where the development from Israel to the New Israel through the body of the risen victim is clearest, that the effect this same process has on the understanding of time becomes clearest, with Jerusalem becoming abandoned by God (Luke 13:35), and then destroyed (Luke 21:20) thus leaving open a new time, the times of the gentiles (Luke 21:24).

8. I am much indebted for these following remarks to the work of A. Tornos Escatología 1 (Madrid: UPCM, 1989). Tornos' magnificent analysis of the development of Christian hope owes nothing to mimetic theory, so I am delighted to note the extreme similarity of the conclusions he has reached to my own attempts to work out the implications of mimetic theory for eschatology.