Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: "The Gospel of John"
Tape #10; Re: John 13:31-17:26
What Bailie takes as his task:
to understand the biblical tradition, the Gospel specifically, and the
cultures that have derived from them generally, in two ways:
anthropologically, the biblical revelation and its cultural after-effects,
in terms of spirituality, especially Christian spirituality.
Or, in other terms, to take a look at the effects of the biblical tradition
on the unfolding drama of human history
as well as the unfolding drama in one's own life, which is the purview
of Christian spirituality.
There's probably no better place to see these two things than in the Farewell
Discourse of John's Gospel.
The Farewell Discourse is a prestigious genre in the biblical tradition,
especially with Moses' farewell discourse which makes up the book of Deuteronomy.
No one uses it as explicitly in the NT as the Fourth Evangelist.
Trying to combine the anthropological with the spiritual, we begin with
a meditation on the anthropological: what is history?
It is a question that has dawned on those under the biblical influence
of the last few centuries--Hegel's work stands out, though flawed.
To say that the biblical revelation is an historical revelation is an understatement;
it would be more accurate to say that what we think of when we say the
word "history" is itself a product of biblical revelation.
This doesn't mean history as a catalog of objective events; this type of
catalog existed prior to any biblical contribution to the idea of history.
Such catalogs were pre-occupied with power, and prestige generated by conflict,
and by the political effects of such conflicts; these existed before Israelite
historiography and independently of its influence. But such catalogs are
as fundamentally meaningless as the exploits with which they remain enthralled.
Shelley's sonnet "Osimandius" is a comment on this kind of history, as
well as on the swollen figures on which it fixates. Reads excerpts. Osimandius
is a figure who felt himself to be right in the middle of history, and
in retrospect he is non-existent. What Shelley sees in looking back is
what the prophets and NT see when looking forward.
NRS 1 Corinthians 15:24: "Then comes the end, when Christ hands over the
kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every
authority and power." Here, the NT revelation is seen as something that
will deconstruct all the myths of power and might.
Real history, as we know it--that is to say, critical historiography--begins
with the sustained and morally coherent critique of the Israelite monarchy
in the 8th century B.C. It is the history of demythologizing. And Shelley's
poem takes its place in this history, a history of the effort to point
out the pomposities, perversities and misrecognitions upon which our personal
collective self-assessments depend.
The fundamental subject matter of this history is not discrete events,
but the dynamic of gradual demystification itself, the dynamic in the context
of which the events become intelligible. So the real subject matter of
history is history. That is to say, what is going on here. Not just that
A happens and then B and then C and then D. But the real subject of history
is what is happening when we go from A to B to C to D. The question is:
what is the driving force of history.
Biblically, today the driving force of the critical historiography to which
the Israelite prophetic tradition gave rise is what the Fourth Evangelist
called the Paraclete. So here we have this little term used in such a strange
way, by modern standards--this esoteric term which no one can translate,
so we bring the Greek into many translations--is the driving force of human
history in our world today. All we have to do is to read the text carefully
and then pick up the morning newspaper, and sooner or later it will dawn
Inasmuch as biblical revelation is historical, we cannot arrive at the
universal and timeless meaning of any given historical event by abstracting
from it, by treating it allegorically or symbolically.
This is what we have tried to do in the past. We have seen certain events
in the biblical canon, and we have sensed that these events have universal
meaning, and we've tried to get at that meaning by going to the universal--that
is to say, by backing away from it and seeing it on this horizon of allegory
It's a virtuous desire we have to see it in its wider implications, but
we don't realize how grounded in history the revelation is. And so we must
stay within the historical context in order to get to something transcendent.
It's a paradox: if one wants to move out of the nitty-gritty, sometimes
crude, historical form into the universal, one would better do it by sticking
with the historical circumstances than by abstracting from it. The universality
and timelessness of such events comes to the fore when we locate them in
their historical setting, which gave rise to them in the first place.
For example: Readers of John's Gospel realize that it has universal and
timeless implications. But they are not the mystical, Cosmic Christ implications
that we tend to draw out of them today. The living Christ so central to
the Fourth Gospel is palpable in our world. The Paraclete is the driving
force in history, the one that has Christianized the West and is Westernizing
the world. We say this not to valorize the so-called Christian West (we're
hardly Christian any longer, except in the anthropological sense). This
phenomenon is a mixed bag morally and intellectually. But there is something
going on in the world which is pretty clear, the westernization of the
world. What is happening in our world--whether its happening perversely,
negatively, and violently, or in a positive and hopeful way--is happening
because of the Paraclete.
So first we need to set these discourses in their historical setting. We
can get more out of that than by leaping to the Cosmic Christ which seems
to be hovering over the text.
In the late first century the Christian movement was in crisis, but two
can be lifted up in relation to this passage:
The apostolic generation was dying, a crisis for all the churches, that
helped bring the gospels into being.
The impulse to write them comes from the need for an authoritative text
upon the deaths of authoritative witnesses.
But it was more a crisis for the Johannine community because it shunned
the institutional structures that were so much a part the other churches,
such as those that gave rise to the synoptic gospels. In the other churches,
there is in place a way to appoint authorities to help meet the loss of
It recalls the end of the career of the prophet Samuel. The people ask
for a king. They want to do what the other nations do, although they are
not supposed to do what the other nations do, because they're leader is
The Johannine community had committed itself to the premise that the Spirit
would guide it and that it did not have to have these institutional structures.
(The tension continues today between the need to institutionalize, best
carried out by those who realize that the act of institutionalizing is
itself an act of apostasy.) So it is a bigger crisis for this community
when its eyewitness dies. And that it soon fell apart afterwards is an
The other contributing factor to the crisis is the fact that Jesus hadn't
yet come again. They had to either re-interpret this expectation or abandon
In 2 Peter you have the interpretative move of calling a day a thousand
years for the Lord.
In John, Jesus has come when we come together. He is living in the Father
and we are in him, and vice versa. This has been called realized eschatology.
There is a future element of God's coming, but it's also coming right now
In our world, evolution passes as eschatology, which will some day soon
be deconstructed in some way. As a reigning interpretation it will collapse.
Eternal life is knowing God, and living in God through Christ, right now.
We might venture to say this: an eyewitness lived late into the first century
and finally died, a big crisis for the church which resulted in this gospel.
The imminent death left its mark on the way this gospel was fashioned.
The dismay of the Johannine community at the imminent death of the eyewitness
corresponds to the dismay of the disciples at the imminent death of Jesus.
There is a conflation of two historical events. This beloved disciple remembers
what it was like to lose Jesus; knowing that, he tells the story of Jesus'
departure in a way that will help his community. Remembering is a creative
act of faith in this gospel, absolutely the opposite of mythologizing.
To mythologize is to remember by leaving out the things that would lead
to contrition. In the biblical world, the only measure of consciousness
is contrition. To remember in the Johannine sense in to remember the events
in a way that makes them revelatory (the opposite of myth which conceals),
leading the listeners to deeper understanding of the events.
Commentary on the Farewell Discourse--not in order, but topically
Begin with the idea that the evangelist is preparing his community for
the shock that the disciples felt at Jesus' death.
You get language like the following: NRS John 16:16 "A little while, and
you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me."
17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by
saying to us, 'A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again
a little while, and you will see me'; and 'Because I am going to the Father'?"
18 They said, "What does he mean by this 'a little while'? We do not know
what he is talking about." This is precisely what they were asking at the
end of the first century. Jesus was supposed to return in a little while;
where is he?
The leaving and returning have to do with believing, with a conversion
of heart. Jesus answers: NRS John 16:20 "Very truly, I tell you, you will
weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your
pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because
her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers
the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the
world. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts
will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." Seeing is always
a synonym for believing in this gospel.
Luke and Matthew have birth stories of Jesus the Nazarene, which happened
in a little shack. Where will the birth of Christ take place? John says
in heartbreak, despair, sadness, in the manger of your own emotional catastrophe,
following the death of Jesus.
NRS John 16:7 "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage
that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come
to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." 'You must undergo the heartbreak
of my going to the cross for the Paraclete to come.' And the effect of
the Paraclete is to make it impossible for you not to empathize with everyone
you see in my position. Every person who you see persecuted, you will see
Christ in him or her. And the Paraclete will be doing that to you. And
how could he do that to you until Jesus gets crucified? The Paraclete cannot
break the spell of the sacrificial system unless Jesus goes to the cross.
The second coming, the birth of Christ in the community and in the person
of faith, happens in an emotional manger, similar to the birth of Jesus
in an animal shed.
NRS John 14:18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In
a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because
I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my
Father, and you in me, and I in you." Jesus does not say they won't be
orphaned; he won't leave them orphaned. When you come to the realization
of the Father living in Jesus and Jesus in you, then the second coming
Faith and knowledge. Do we go from knowledge to faith? No, from faith to
knowledge. Faith is the epistemological force par excellence. Science
was a little thing we created a long the way, when faith made it impossible
for us to believe in magic anymore.
NRS John 16:25 "I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The
hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will
tell you plainly of the Father.
parresia means "boldly." (This word was used in the prophetic tradition
to signify bold gestures, not just speech acts, like Jeremiah walking around
in harness.) We could almost take the word paroimiais, "figures
of speech," simply as standing for speech itself. We could almost read
this as, 'The time for words is past. The revelation will have to come
through something more dramatic than that, i.e., the cross.
The next bit of dialogue is: NRS John 16:29 His disciples said, "Yes, now
you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that
you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this
we believe that you came from God." 31 Jesus answered them, "Do you now
believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered,
each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because
the Father is with me." He is talking about moving from talk to the cross,
and they think he is talking about moving from poetry to prose. The cross
is not a metaphor or symbol. When Jesus says he is going to speak one more
time, boldly and decisively, it can mean nothing but the cross. If you
want to get the universality of the cross, you have to stick with its facticity,
the fact of a public execution.
NRS John 14:30 "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this
world is coming. He has no power over me." The showdown is about to happen
between Jesus and the prince of this world. Who is the prince of this world,
the organizing principal? Jesus is the first Paraclete, and will
send another one later. But the first Paraclete and the prince of this
world are about to have a showdown. Or we can go back to chapter 8: the
son of my father is about to have a showdown with the son of the father
who is a murderer from the beginning, the father of lies. So he's not going
to talk anymore.
NRS John 14:16 "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another
Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom
the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You
know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." Who's the
The Greek term parakletos is variously translated "the Counselor,"
"the Advocate." More straightforwardly, it meant the lawyer for the defense,
the one who stood in the place of the accused and argued his/her case.
The Paraclete always has, as Raymond Brown points out, a forensic role.
It argues on behalf of its client. It turns that accusation back on the
accusatory institution or agent, to cause the accusation to rebound on
"Spirit of Truth": aletheia means literally to "stop forgetting."
The reason the accusatory system lives on is because we always forget the
truth. We carry around a myth, which the Spirit will no longer let us do.
The world has to exclude the Paraclete in order to carry on in its ordinary
way. Conventional culture exists by periodically re-convening its social
consensus at the expense of its victim. And that world can only exist if
it can misrecognize the arbitrariness of its selection of victims, and
all the rest of it. So when the Paraclete comes and makes that misrecognition
increasingly difficult, the world begins to deconstruct. The cultural structures
begin to come apart.
NRS John 16:12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot
bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into
all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever
he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."
Here you have the whole problem of history in a nutshell. This revelation
is historical. It gradually dawns on the human race. That, in a way, is
the mercy that's inherent in it, because we're only asked to live up to
moral mandates that we're capable of living up to.
If the full revelation were to hit Abraham on Mt. Moriah, he wouldn't even
have sacrificed the goat, and all hell would have broken loose when he
came back down. This is what happened to Moses. He went up the mountain
and came back down, and the people were worshiping the golden calf. 3000
In other words, if we tried to eliminate all the crazy sacrificial aspects
of human culture overnight, we would descend into that terrible cauldron
of violence from which the sacrificial system saved us. So it's a progressive
thing. This is mentioned not in order to urge us to tolerate any sacrificial
rituals that we can recognize, but only to say that we're only allowed
to recognize those that we're morally capable of doing without. Our descendants
will be able to recognize those we cannot yet recognize, and they will
be morally capable of living without them. We can't recognize them, probably
because we cannot live without them. There's something tremendously forgiving
in this statement.
NRS John 16:12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot
bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into
all the truth." The Spirit of Truth is the Paraclete. The Paraclete is
the counselor for the accused. Question: If the Paraclete, as Paraclete,
will lead us to the complete truth, how could someone who does nothing
but defend victims from accusations lead us to the complete truth? It could
be true under only one circumstance: that the accusatory phenomenon is
the source of all human delusion. All human delusion is generated in
that social vortex constellated around the common accused enemy. If that
system could be shattered, and to the extent that it is, we will wake up
from the spell that it has cast on us, and we'll be led to the truth, gradually.
The Paraclete's mission in the world to deconstruct the accusations against
the potential victims. The Paraclete breaks down the social consensus generated
by accusation, and thereby frees us from the myth. Jesus' going to the
cross is what sends the Paraclete.
NRS John 16:8 "And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin
and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe
in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you
will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world
has been condemned." Couldn't be clearer.
Imagine you find a diary stashed away from a 17th century New England village.
It contains an account of the crops failing and cattle dying; a woman is
accused of casting a spell; she is run out of town and her house is burned;
and, lo and behold, the crops get better the next year. Is it true? Of
course not. You say, 'The reason I say it's not true is that I don't believe
in magic.' But really that begs the question. Why don't we believe in magic?
We don't believe in magic because we gradually ceased to find accusations
of magic plausible.
As Girard says, "We didn't stop burning witches because we invented science.
We invented science because we stopped burning witches." There is an epistemological
force, a revelatory force, at the heart of Western inquiry, scientific
and otherwise, that is determined to get past the myth. And the myth par
excellence is the myth that justifies the accusation, justifies the
We know that witches were unjustly killed because of the work of the Paraclete
in our world. We have a knowledge that is not scientific, but it is rigorous.
It's epistemologically sound knowledge given to us by the Paraclete.
NRS Matthew 10:19 "When they hand you over, do not worry about how you
are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given
to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of
your Father speaking through you." This does not mean that you shouldn't
worry because, when push comes to shove, you'll be given great eloquence.
It means that if you find yourself, after the revelation, in the place
of the victim, the very fact that you are in that place will give you moral
authority. The moral authority will begin to shift from the accusers to
the accused. You need not start brushing up on your rhetoric; they will
have to brush up on theirs. That's the Paraclete operating in our world.
(Quote from Eric Gans.)
Examples of how the Paraclete is working in the world.
Capt. Cook in Tahiti (see ch. 4, pp. 67-78 of Violence Unveiled)
The Tahitians perform ritual sacrifices as a prelude to war.
Cook asks some questions that they have never been asked before. Myth doesn't
answer questions; it extinguishes the mental vitality required to answer
them. A myth goes without saying.
Cook conveys his sentiments about the sacrifice through an educated native,
Omai, who expresses their views with great conviction, concluding that
the chief would have been hanged for murder in England. The spirit of this
young interpreter is the Paraclete, which seizes hold of him. The chief,
representing the prince of this world, tries to regain his hold through
his wrath. Notice the irony of saying the chief would have been hanged.
It's progress made only within the sacrificial system.
Billy Budd, by Herman Melville. Billy is scandalized by an officer,
Claggert, kills him, and must be hanged for it.
The trial. Captain Veer sees the hesitancy of the three officers chosen
for the jury and has to "brush up on his rhetoric" to convince them. Empathy
for the victim is not nature; it's part of the biblical world.
The moment of hanging, amidst the rolling of the ship. The business of
sacrifice in human anthropology is the restoration of order, a catharsis
that restores order. The ship is just regaining even keel as Billy is hung.
The official report conjectures that Budd was a foreigner.
The Paraclete casting out the Paraclete is the world we live in today,
where we choose the victimizers to be the victims. Two examples.
From Rousseau's Confessions.
Dostoevski's The Idiot.
The reason for these examples to show that it is the Paraclete at work
in our world. And, if you don't believe it, pick up tomorrow's paper and
see how it deconstructs the sacrificial ruse, and what happens to a society
that tries to live after the sacrificial ruse has been deconstructed without
a conversion experience. It falls into chaos. Because the only alternative
to the sacrificial system, in terms of civility and sanity, is conversion.
And that's the other thing that the Farewell Discourses underscore emphatically,
i.e., the need for conversion, for Christ to dwell within us.
Some final comments on John 17
NRS John 17:11 "And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the
world, and I am coming to you." Jesus, when he says "world," is not referring
to simply the earth or the flesh. He is referring to that ordered cosmos,
which is the mythologized world of conventional culture. He's in it no
NRS John 17:14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them
because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the
world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask
you to protect them from the evil one [i.e., the Accuser]. 16 They do not
belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify
them in the truth; your word is truth." Later, Jesus speaks to Pilate of
coming "into" the world but not being "of" the world.
This is where the anthropological reading leads directly into the spiritual
reading. The Johannine Jesus says, (John 15:1) "I am the true vine, and
my Father is the vinegrower. You are the branches." If I am no longer at
home in the culture world, if I can no longer derive my sense of social
significance, psychological grounding, and all the rest of it from the
social consensus, then where do I get it? My Father is the vinedresser,
I am the vine, and you are the branches. This is the new world you belong
to. Christ replaces the world as your source of self-substantiation. He
says, 'I'm robbing it of its power to substantiate either itself or you.
Slowly but surely it will lose its power to substantiate itself and those
people who participate in it. If you want substantiation, then you have
to go to the only source of self-substantiation, God. There is no way to
go to God directly. You need a mediator. I will be the mediator. You can
now ground yourself in me. You live in me, and I will live in you.' This
sounds so esoteric, in a way, but it's absolutely practical. It needs to
be seen in terms of this juxtaposition of the collapse of the conventional
social world's ability to substantiate itself and its participants. He
says, 'You have to have a home; you don't have a home in the world anymore.
Make your home in me, and I in you. Abide in me, and then you will have