Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Animals and the Resurrection


In my conference paper on meat and the resurrection, I quickly treated the question of animal resurrection in mainstream Christian doctrine: the answer? They don't. Since then, I've been caught in a kind of research loop....

In between bouts of teaching and grading and committee-meeting [but, happy to say, not job-hunting: I hereby offer my support and encouragement to any of our readers interviewing at the MLA in a couple of weeks. All best!], my blog post-cum-book section swelled up into what could have been 3,000+ words: more an accidental conference paper than food for the blog. I realized I needed to limit myself, in part out of consideration for your time, but also to rein in this material. Even so, it's probably too long for the blog. My apologies.

In Genesis 1:31, having finished his work, God gives his creation one last approving look. According to J. Edward Wright, this look inspired “a longing to return to this 'very good' mythical place, the place where humans existed before evil, pain, and suffering were introduced into our existence” (189); hence, as Wright suggests, the popularity of the conception of heaven as a garden. Yet something is missing: the renewed creation can scarcely be called a "garden." Where are the animals? Where are the plants? They might be saved, but nowhere does Wright indicate that animals or plants ever found a place in heaven. I do not mean to single out Wright: his work, otherwise excellent, is typical of celestial studies in his non-acknowledgment of animal or other worldly nonhuman life (e.g., Peter Toon, Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview; Clifford Davidson, ed.,The Iconography of Heaven; Jan Swango Emerson and Hugh Feiss, eds, Imagining Heaven in the Middle Ages; Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History; Carolyn Muessig and Ad Putter, eds, Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages).

But regardless of what Aquinas might say (see here and, for the Latin, here), regardless of the gaps in celestial studies more generally, plants and animals do sometimes appear in the future paradise. Verdant, bucolic heavens appear as early as 2 Enoch 8:1-3 and, in more mainstream works, in Jeremiah 31:12 and Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25 and in Revelations 22:2, which finds a place for the tree of life in the Eternal City. The twelfth-century De contemptu mundi of Bernard of Cluny pictures a heaven in which the saints will “stroll and dance amidst holy lilies and blooming flowerbuds” (21); the Elucidarium pictures a world freed of the postlapsarian curse, in which “odoriferis floribus, liliis, rosis, violis immarcessibiliter” (PL 171:1168D; unfading, sweet-smelling flowers—lilies, roses, violets) bloom in a world without thorns; and Pearl famously imagines the afterlife as a garden thronged with the souls of the saved. There's also this painting, which, if you're feeling generous, can stand in for any number of sylvan depictions of paradise.

Giovanni di Paolo's painting takes the floral luxury of the Elucidarium one step further by granting animals a place in paradise. They find a place, too, in Savonarola's Compendium of Revelations, where “mild animals, like white sheep, ermines, rabbits, and harmless creatures” frolic in a meadow, although Savonarola effaces their animal existence by glossing them as representing "Christians engaged in the active life." However, in a much earlier work, Irenaeus's Against Heresies 5.33.4, actual animals resurrect to live again as they did in Eden:
the resurrection of the just [shall also apply] to those animals mentioned. For God is rich in all things. And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth. But some other occasion, and not the present, is [to be sought] for showing that the lion shall [then] feed on straw. And this indicates the large size and rich quality of the fruits. For if that animal, the lion, feeds upon straw [at that period], of what a quality must the wheat itself be whose straw shall serve as suitable food for lions?
To the best of my current knowledge, Irenaeus's point here had little effect on medieval Christianity. Various apocryphal stories (discussed ably by Christopher R. Matthews in this anthology) were as uninfluential: in a version of the story of Androcles and the lion, the apostle Paul is saved in the arena by a lion he once baptized (Jerome, who himself records talking centaurs and all manner of pious animals, sniffed at the story: what nerve!); in the Acts of Philip, Philip and his entourage baptize a goat and a leopard, both of which eventually transform into humans in order to receive the Eucharist and thus, presumably, become suited for the resurrection. As stillborn as were these stories, tantalizing evidence of hope for animal life occasionally appears in later texts. Students of Middle English will remember the church founded at the end of Bevis of Hampton to pray for the souls of Bevis, his wife Josian, "And also for Arondel, / Yif men for eni hors bidde schel" (4616-7). In Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (in a version of a tale also told by Rutebeuf), a poor village priest buries his beloved dog in a churchyard (and manages to dodge the avarice of his bishop by convincing him that the dog had set aside a fund for its own burial).

Yet the mainstream exegetical reaction to Romans 8:19-23 is telling. Paul writes:
For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.
Paul is otherwise scornful of animal life (see 1 Corinthians 9:9-10). But here, if “the creature” that groaningly awaits delivery from “corruption” into another more perfect existence is understood as distinct from the “ourselves” and “we” awaiting the “redemption of the body,” then Paul is suggesting that nonhuman life will resurrect. The possibility, only a possibility because of Paul's typically obscure prose, becomes glaringly apparent in the reactions of medieval exegesis. Rabanus Maurus feels compelled to assert that “creaturam, ut pote rationabilem, habere exspectationem quamdam” (PL 111:1454C; “the creature,” insofar as it is rational, has this expectation). A late antique commentary on the Epistles (ascribed by the PL to Jerome but likely by Pelagius) explains that Paul's promise of redemption could apply only to humans and then reemphasizes the proper dominance of humans over the worldly creation: “Exspectatio creaturae, de rationi creatura sermonem fecit, et non sicut quidam existimant, de irrationali, vel insensibili, quae ad servitutem hominum creata est” (PL 30: 683A; "The expectation of the creature": he said this about a rational creature, and not as some think, about an unreasoning creature, or an insensible one, which was made to serve man). Augustine's exegesis in the Refutation of the Priscillianists and Origenists and in question sixty-seven of the Miscellany of Eight-Three Questions proved to be the foundational approach to the verses (see the commentaries by Lanfranc, PL 150:132A-B; HervĂ© de Bourg-Dieu, PL 181: 710D-11C; Hugh of St. Victor, PL 175:481D; William of St.-Thierry, PL 180:634D-635A; and Peter Lombard, PL 191:1442B-1444C). Countering the purportedly Origenist notion that the stars and other celestial bodies might resurrect, Augustine argued that Paul referred only to humans. As he explained, all creation may be understood as present in humans, since humans are a microcosm: they are rational, like angels; they can sense, like animals; they have life, like trees, which, like our hair, can grow without being aware of its own growth. Moreover, the four elements are present in humans: they are made from earth, heat is required for bodily life and “light shines forth from our eyes”; the lungs are filled with air; and the flow of blood is evidence of the presence of moisture. Haymo of Auxerre (in a commentary the PL ascribes mistakenly to Haymo of Halberstadt) directly asserts what is only hinted at by other exegetes, namely, the gross error of any reading of the passage that “comprehenderit...bestias” (PL 117:432B,; understood it as being about beasts) rather than as about men, who can stand in for all creation. For, in Haymo's citation of Gregory the Great wrote, humans “esse cum lapidibus, vivere cum arboribus, sentire et [0432D] vivere cum animalibus; intelligere, id est rationabilitatem habere, cum angelis” (PL 117:432D; have being as do stones, live as do trees, sense and live as do animals, understand, that is, have reason, as do angels).

To sum up: the most doctrinally orthodox Christianity reserved the afterlife for rational beings only: humans, God, and angels. Only animals and other worldly nonhuman life, as I have argued elsewhere, could be said to die; humans suffered, at worst, an interruption. Nonetheless, we can still glimpse witnesses to the love of humans for at least individual animals; in a point I hope to talk about further, we can also witness the difficulty of imagining human life unworlded. The gardens of paradise, I think, are not just returns to Eden; they are not just fantasies of an elite in love with their own Springtime. Ralph Acampora has argued that the primacy of being "always already caught up in the experience of being a live body thoroughly involved in a plethora of ecological and social interrelationships with other living bodies and people" (5). It requires a vigorous effort, the effort of high, professional doctrine, to sustain the imagination of a future in which humans exist as themselves, with their God and with the angels and with each other, but without anything else; it requires an effort as vigorous as any effort, Cartesian or otherwise, of "dissociation and nonaffiliation" (5) with the world. Failures of that effort, or what might better be called refusals to unrecognize being a worlded (human) creature, can be witnessed in those visions of paradise that are worlds, like this one, but better, of humans and plants and animals and rocks and wind and the smell of flowers, all with each other. To fail the philosophical project of Aquinas and others is, as Acampora might write, to sustain oneself in the hope of the presently existing paradise that we could make paradise if only we knew our place in it.


anna klosowska said...

this is fascinating. please do not rein yourself in

meli said...

thanks for this!

i'm currently working on a radio play by a Catholic Australian poet with medievalist leanings, in which the ghosts of the animals (no bodily resurrection for them) argue with the angels for the chance to enter judgement day.

word verification: amine

Karl Steel said...

Trust me Anna: I'll throw more stuff at the blog soon enough.

And Meli: sounds fascinating. I'd love to see it (or hear it?) when you're finished.

Karl Steel said...

I do not mean to single out Wright: his work, otherwise excellent, is typical of celestial studies in his non-acknowledgment of animal or other worldly nonhuman life

For the sake of fairness, I should say that these works acknowledge this life, but they don't do so in a systematically. In other words, although I picked up various pieces from my reading--the Savonarola reference, Bernard of Cluny, the idea to look at the exegesis on Romans 8:19-23, &c.--celestial studies wonder why only humans resurrect, nor do they remark on the strangeness of rabbits &c and plants in heaven.

Steve Muhlberger said...


Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Beautiful piece Karl. I wondered throughout most of it about what you attended to in the last paragraph: what about plants, creatures formed of humors just like animals and humans, creatures without which worlding doesn't happen? And then ... what about rocks, and wind, and smell? All those things that you get at so poetically at the end.

Have you ever read any Alphonso Lingis? He is one of the least boring and most sensory-obsessed of philosophers/phenomenologists/nomads/anthropologists/translators/ethicists ... actually much of his work holds that ethical imperatives derive from animals, plants, and the nonorganic.

Eileen Joy said...

I'm so glad Jeffrey mentioned Lingis, who really does write beautifully, almost poetically. An essay that would be really apropos here is "Animal Body, Inhuman Face," which was included in Cary Wolfe's "Zoontologies," so something tells me, Karl, that you've likely seen that one already. But a book that is apropos to your project here is Lingis's "The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common."

Eileen Joy said...

Karl: a very thought-provoking piece and I have some comments and a question--

I would say [and partly following the lead of Caroline Walker Bynum's book "The Resurrection of the Body"] that imagining humans in the after-world, hell, purgatory, heaven, whathaveyou, in a state of "un-worldment," has always been, perhaps, *the* chief difficulty of late antique and medieval theology concerned with the afterlife, and pretty much all artistic representations [poetry, painting, sculpture, etc.] of heaven [and hell] have to place within those "un-worlds" worldly features, and also physiologically recognizable human features--otherwise, what would we be looking at/how could we recognize ourselves there? What would a soul, divorced from a body until the Last Judgment, look like [of course, modern artists would have and *have had* more fun with this, but not so much medieval artists]? How would the shape of one soul be different/discernible from the shape of another soul [human or otherwise]? In Dante's "Paradiso," of course, we have those souls that each form a petal of an enormous rose and God as light and concentric circles, and I guess, to a certain extent, I have always seen medieval artists' representations of heaven as trying to be true to certain theological understandings/explications of that site, while also diverging from those explications, almost of necessity, or else this un- or non-place would be like the surface of the moon: cold and inhuman, non-habitable, non-recognizable, alien, incomprehensible as a "living" space, non-desirable, etc. This is why, too, I think so much of the medieval theological writings on resurrection are so paradoxical and f*&k-ed up: how, on the one hand can you spill so much ink condemning the vile/fallen/corruptible/decadent/decaying/useless body, and then on the other hand, insist that it somehow *be there* with the soul in the afterlife: why would God promise such a thing which, implicitly, indicates that for humans to really desire heaven, they have to love their bodies so much as to never want to go anywhere without them [and also, maybe, because individual identity was also loved too much--although, supposed to be reviled--and the body was its best outward manifestation/guarantee]? And the ideas of those theologians, like Origen, who denied the physical aspects of the Resurrection, just did not seize hold of the common and also the artistic imagination in the same way ideas of a more physical/enworlded afterlife obviously did. I think the early Church fathers, especially Augustine, really worked themselves into a sort of bind over an enfleshed afterlife and the somewhat opposing ideas that all flesh is inherently corruptible and fallen [and even acts as a kind of blocking agent to spiritual life/practice] and that if God produced it/enfleshed it, it has to be worthy of resurrection/preservation. Connected to this paradox is also the idea of the whole world itself as both a beautiful creation and a damned/fallen place.

A word or several words in the Acampora quotation is missing, so I didn't quite get the whole sense of that, but I feel it's important.

As to failing the philosophical project of imagining ourselves as enworlded (human) creatures, fully enmeshed within networks and socialities (both human and nonhuman)--as live bodies "thoroughly involved in a plethora of ecological and social interrelationships with other living bodies and people"--have we really failed this entirely? I would say that the majority of medieval theologians/biblical exegetes have, by your own account, definitely failed, but isn't it precisely in the world of art [even medieval art: poetry, narrative, painting, etc.] that we see the necessary corrective/resistance to these more "official" viewpoints? And I wonder, then, if your project might not also require a consideration of the function of the aesthetic as a kind of counter-discourse [maybe, even, as a future-directed mode of counter-expression] in relation to the more official discourses on animals and the Resurrection?

Karl Steel said...

Oddly, I know I've read Lingis, at least in the Cary Wolfe anthology, but there's nothing in my notes about him. This clearly means I skimmed only for the sake of whatever I was working on at the moment. Time to revisit, so thanks, you two, for the rec. And I'm glad, Jeffrey, that I managed to end up where you'd hope I'd go. Oddly, I had no idea I'd be writing that paragraph until I actually wrote it. Everything else was in place, but I just didn't have the 'so what' moment. Thankfully--guided unconsciously by all the conversations we've had here--I'm stumbled into something that I think is pretty good.

Eileen, thanks for that first big graph. You and I are on the same wave here, and thanks for putting that 'on paper.'

Here's a larger excerpt from the Acampora that contains my smaller excerpt:

"We are not in some abstract, retro-Cartesian positions of species solipsism where our minds seem to just float in a rarified space of pure spectatorship apart from all ecological enmeshment and social connection with other organisms and persons [ME: and here I think of the saved looking down into hell, with self-satisfaction, on the sufferings of the damned], wondering, as it were, if 'there's anybody out there.' That is a portrait borne not of philosophic rigor but of psychological malady or hyperintellectual pretense (or both). Where we begin, quite on the contrary, is always already caught up in the experience of being a live body thoroughly involved in a plethora of ecological and social interrelationships with other living bodies and people. That, I hold, is our native position, and it deserves--existentially, phenomenologically, and indeed (as I shall later argue) scientifically--to be recognized as such and consequently to be taken as our philosophic starting point. The ethical upshot of such a gestalt-shift in the ontological background is profound, because it effectively transfers the burden of proof from what has been denigrated as ethical 'extensionalism' or expansion, to, instead, what we should rightly refer to as ethical isolationism or contraction (i.e., homo-exclusive anthropocentrism). From this perspective, the problem of traction for moral consideration of nonhuman animals dissolves, because the moral motion at stake is no longer felt to be a pull (into the ethical sphere) but is reconceived as a push (out of or away from it). It is the movement toward dissociation and nonaffiliation that needs to be justified against a background of relatedness or interconnectivity." (4-5)

I would say that the majority of medieval theologians/biblical exegetes have, by your own account, definitely failed, but isn't it precisely in the world of art [even medieval art: poetry, narrative, painting, etc.] that we see the necessary corrective/resistance to these more "official" viewpoints?

Exactly! I apologize for my muddled syntax there in the end. My point, which I'll make more directly when I write this 'officially,' is that the various artistic representations of heaven as a world like ours fail the proper doctrinally rigorous expectations for heaven, and that this "failure" is precisely the place for us to think, and for us to recognize medievals thinking, phenomenologically and ecologically about worlded being. We can then flip this, then, and say that Aquinas, &c., fails the world insofar as he expects the perfection of (human) being to be unworlded. Suspending for the moment the question of what counts as 'mainstream' (since it's perhaps better now to see TWO dominant strains: one worlded, and the other not], we can view mainstream medieval resurrection doctrine as a great attempt to justify "dissociation and nonaffiliation." If I want to identify this unworlding as pathological, and I do want to, we can see this work as a great desperate resistance to change and flux, what Bynum called [in seminar, if not in print?] "the ontological scandal."

I suppose a Catholic might see me as refusing to abandon the old medieval temptations "the world, the flesh, and the devil" because I'm joining others in arguing--or better, in recognizing or remembering--that the world is the flesh and the flesh is the world. And, gloriously, the Bevis writer, Giovanni di Paolo, and astonishingly, even in a text clogged with hatred of the body, Bernard of Cluny, and so many other medieval artists saw things, and saw themselves, this way too. These are not just bunnies and flowers in heaven; this represented and remembered life--and even mere being, as attested by the presence of rocks--says something profound about human self-conception as it should be properly understood: as worlded being.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Very cool compendium Karl, which is buttressable with Skrbina's Panpsychism book, which has virtually nothing to say about the middle ages, except of course St. Francis, whose panpsychism is always made present in Christian discourse *subjunctively*, with Francis talking to animals and inanimate things "as if . . ."

Matt Chrulew said...

Thanks for a fascinating piece Karl (and sorry to come in so late). I assume you're also familiar with Agamben's beginning The Open with the C13 biblical miniatures depicting the redeemed with animal heads - the question of messianic redemption and human-animal life are tightly connected in that book. I think I also have somewhere some further (modern) commentaries on the Romans passage that I've collected - I'll pass them on when I find them, if you're interested. It's fascinating how much people try to read into this passage - both to connect and separate the creatureliness of humans and animals. Heidegger referred to Paul in this regard in his Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics regarding the world-poverty of the animal: it is essentially disrupted by its exposure to something other. Eric Santner has a great discussion of this in his On Creaturely Life, where he ties the question of creaturely redemption to the readings of Paul that have become so prominent (Agamben, Badiou, Zizek etc.): "What is at stake in the Pauline notion of resurrection, of the overcoming of death, is in other words not some phantasmal reanimation of the dead but the possibility of a deanimation of the undeadness that makes creatures of us all." (129)

Karl Steel said...

Matt, sorry to respond so late. It's been a nutty couple of weeks. I'll send you an email to make sure I get the stuff, but, first, YES, I would love to see some of the modern commentaries on it: I could find this stuff myself, but as I'm not 'really' a biblical scholar, I wouldn't know how to do in a systematic way. And SECOND, I do know the Agamben, but thanks for reminding me of it. You'll be hearing from me.