The Medieval Review 17.04.16

Stang, Charles M. Our Divine Double. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. pp. 309. $49.94 (hardback). ISBN: 978-0-674-28719-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Karl F. Morrison
Rutgers University

Stang has written a sui generis study quite like some churches in Rome. Its up-to-date International Style architecture incorporates ancient spolia--building elements recycled from demolished antiquities, a kind of trophy debris--rebuilt in new ways into a structure serving tastes and needs of a society distinctly not their own. The spolia in Stang's structure are a handful of philosophical and religious texts from the late Roman Empire. They derive from Hellenic culture and, in Stang's erudite book, they carry chisel marks of recyclers, past and present. Stang's indigenating "discovery" of the "theology of twinning" in the third-century apocrypha Gospel of Thomas gave him the focal element in the architecture of this book (122).

In the fifthth century BC, Sophocles captured a virtually universal proposition of the world's religions in two lines: "Many are the prodigies / But none is more prodigious than man" (Antigone, 332). The tragedy introduced by the Ode rests precisely in the hiddenness where it takes shape: the difficulty of distinguishing good from ill, and even more obscurely of knowing how to discern the minds of the gods. Stang has taken up this perilous ambiguity as it reappeared at a much later stage of Hellenic civilization, remodeled into a prescription for divinizing human beings. As he has found, a shadow of the way Sophocles cast the tragic hiddenness of human destiny is still there in the spiritual keystone of this study, most widely (but not exclusively) known in Christian theology as theosis. It remained as a component of "divinization" long after the end of the period he reviews. Generally speaking, Stang's materials come from the turmoil generally defined as "the crisis of the third century," the crucible in which the Roman Empire dissolved to return as a new creation. Stang's texts come from the eastern Mediterranean, primarily Syria, Egypt, and possibly other regions of Hellenism. With a sound regard for the comparative study of religions, Stang has provided a synopsis of the prescription for divinization in one branch of Christianity (apocryphal literature regarding the doubting Apostle Thomas), Manichaeism, and Neo-platonic philosophy. To hold the various strands of his study together, Stang has provided summaries of the story at the beginning and end of Our Divine Double, and at other strategic points throughout. Chapters are monographic beads strung on the narrative "esoteric thread" Stang looked for and extended from Plato to Plotinus: divinization throughout beginning and ending with self-knowing (88).

Committed to methods recognized as the New Criticism (or post-modernism), Stang constructs both his book and his reader. One additional and distinctive aspect of his task has been to be designing a poetics suiting his material, method, and objectives. The ancillary lines of composition begin with the construction of the book, portraying divinization as a creative process, and the construction of imagined readers, forming them to enter into the interior journey of that process. Indeed, the book is dominated by elucidations of his composite method, and of applications of that method to highly disparate, sparse, and obscure documents. Thus, Stang's text is a means to the end of opening the reader's mind, offering readers a diagram, and possibly an experience, of "finding the Kingdom [of God] by way of interpretation" (81).

The sequence of traditions he constructs en route from Plato to Plotinus traces a labyrinthine analogue to the key Stang found to his riddle in The Gospel of Thomas: "stages along the interpretive path." Following it culminates in "becoming like the living Jesus" (80). Though it is often elided with criticism, poetics is reflection on how a composition is taken to heart, rather than formal rules of composition. Stang's book turns on the inwardness of receptive assimilation. Construction of his poetics ensued from the manifold ways he has pursued this "interpretive path."

Yet such is the nature of his sources that a "cloud of unknowing" overshadows his work. The specific difficulties vary from Thomasite to Manichaean to Plotinian survivals. They are few, largely without corroborative evidence. In general, all are fragmentary, and as they exist today all have been subject to loss through the ravages of time and recasting through translation and/or scribal (and editorial) revisions by hand, under circumstances, and for motives lost beyond recovery. Some original versions have not been recovered, and are known only through translations. Even those attributable to known authors (e.g., Plotinus) have been worked about by editors. As repositories of oracular texts, purportedly secret sayings of Jesus, esoteric wisdom confided only to the initiate and deliberately written in cryptic fashion, the rather short Thomasite texts were written to defend sacred wisdom from profane eyes and understandings from the beginning. Above all, the Thomasite texts are pivotal to Stang's elucidation.

The hazards embedded in creative processes of interpretation by re-coding become apparent if one parses Stang's title, Our Divine Double. What does it mean? Who is the "we" implied by "our," and who or what is the "divine double"? Stang explains that that term is a neologism, evidently his own invention, extrapolated from a small glossary of Greek, Syriac, and Coptic terms used in his sources to name the "twinning" of self, or selfhood (10, 120-121, 183-184). As Stang recognizes, "the very name is ambiguous: it could refer to our own divine double, or the divine's own double" (244). Stang maintains that it was chosen as a title for his book "to dispel that ambiguity," which he had put off acknowledging until the closing sections of his study (244). And yet, at least to me, his reasoning proves the profound cognitive dissonance wrapped up in the name. As a tool for re-coding an ancient doctrine, is the "divine double" a "notion" (8, 63, 234), a "fixation on a fundamental question or the history of philosophy and religion" (253), a tradition, "a centuries-long exploration of the fundamental problem [of the I and the not-I]" (252, 256), or something else? The search for meaning leads to interpretation but not to any sort of univocal definition. It is full of byways.

As Stang reads his sources, divinization is a synergy of divine and human energies which enables a human soul to participate in the divine by discovering and participating in the divine image hidden in the soul. Yet, the climax of self-knowing–in the singularity of each individual partner and the duality of both together--is to enter into a paradoxical awareness of being "both one and not one," being individual, yet pervaded by the divine presence inherent in one's being. Called by several names, it is an entwining of minds in which, at least a part analogue of how in the literature of friendship, the two become spiritually one while retaining their individuality. More important for Stang, are internal points in common with the Apostle Paul's theology of adoption and incorporation in the body of Christ with the "renewal" of believers' minds concomitant with having the mind of Christ. And these are haunted by anxious uncertainty, self-delusion (as hypocrisy), and deep theodiceal dread of the power of God in justice and mercy to blind some to saving truth while revealing it to others, even to command behavior while deafening ears to hear it as well as eyes to see. Though he reserves his analysis of Paul's doctrines to a later study, Stang still makes Galatians 21:20 ("yet not I, but Christ lives in me") the signature of Our Divine Double (8, 59-60, 141), indeed of long-continuing investigations of which the book under review is one segment. Quite rightly, he insists that each text must be interpreted in its own terms. Tempting as conflation may be, the Thomas apocrypha are not to be interpreted in the sense of the Apostle Paul (e.g., 63).

Yet, the difficulty in distilling so multifarious a term as "our divine double" does prove with measurable clarity that the axiom about "auto-interpretive texts," honored among structuralist critics (among whom Stang counts himself), is not taken literally into practice even by them. With perfect honesty and rigor, Stang illustrates its difficulties. Stang applies several modifiers in writing about his key texts, chiefly the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. He warns readers both of his book and of the ancient writings on which he reflects in it, that reading deeply in the sources will cost them much effort and repeated disappointments. He couches his words of experience in metaphoric allusions to two riddle games, sure to teach them that they do not know what they know. The first is the "metal ring puzzle," with the objective of dislodging interlocking rings ("concentric circles" in Stang's allusion). The second, yet more intricate and abounding in reiterative frustration, is "locks and keys," common in interactive fiction, requiring collection of code-breaking data for a series of demands (="locks"). Stang obliquely makes the connection between reiterative reading these two games when he writes: "...[such] a reader can never be sure, because part of the art is discerning locks from keys...such a reader is constantly turned back on the text he is reading, because it is always teaching him how to read it...[and] such a reader is always rereading" (76-7), One difficulty which may require continual, iterative reading is the need to transcend knowledge grounded in logic and experience, the need to reconcile contradictions (81).

The specific coupling of divination and Christianity is powerful enough in Stang's elucidation of "our divine double" to call for the construction of a poetics of faith, along with the critical construction of text and reader. Understandably, in his narrative, "Christian witnesses" have a privileged position (65, 119), and there is much to connect Our Divine Double as an extension of his earlier study, sifting "the early history of Christianity for witnesses to writing as a mystical practice" (8, 256). In other passages, Stang gives "we" a Christian connotation ambiguously enough to catch readers who are not confessionally committed Christians in his dragnet when he means only that as human beings "our primordial image is uniform; it is Jesus Christ" (100, 234). The sense is never far from his mind that potentially every human being could say, with the Apostle Paul, "it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me" (8, 141, 256, quoting Gal. 2:19-21). Stang finds a hybridization of Plato with Paul in determining what "we" must do as Christians to realize Plato's teleology of human divinization (234). Formed by knowing how to read the secret sayings of Jesus "and have their proper interpretation" (99), the community of the enlightened, as twins spiritually entwined with Jesus has its cohesion is sealed by something like a conviction found both in Plato and in Plotinus. For twinning with Jesus by autoscopy is also "an analogy for how we come to know ourselves" with one another. "One looks into another's soul and sees one's eidolon or reflection and this allows for mutual cultivation and deification (cf 216). Stang has reservations against attributing individual texts to particular literate communities in human society which he does not regard as of the same order of being as spiritual communities (71-73).

Thus, both terms of Stang's title--"our" and "divine double"--entail great complexities. In his analytical method, the texts have interpreted themselves and directed him. Throughout his many elucidations of Thomasite, Manichaean, and Neo-platonic sources, crowd of human and divine doublings arose before his mind's eye. At the end, he acknowledges "ambiguity" because the auto-interpretation of the texts for him has come to a point where that multiplicity over the way to divinization has burgeoned and ramified into sectarian factions among Neo-platonists and Christain theologians, to make no mention of Manichaeans, a point where "a new horizon of inquiry" opens (244). Stang does not explain how seeing "a new horizon of inquiry" resolves the melée into patterns and hence into interpretation. Clarity is not achieved, at the end of this investigation, by a call to "look for the divine double in a new aspect. We will not find him [sic] in his usual guise: our heavenly twin, divine alter ego, or even intelligible archetype" (236). "We" have traced the "esoteric theme" running through several branches of mutation (88, 144) without reaching the essence of the figures in the tapestry that is being woven together. Stang anticipated this moment early in his study, and he returns to it toward the end. The continuous thread running through the whole is "a fixation on a fundamental question or problem in the history of philosophy and religion" (253), religion having been silently subsumed into philosophy. The potential for dissociation is central to what Stang calls "selfhood": namely, the interplay between identity and continual change. That interplay surfaces in the center of gravity for Stang's elucidation of a saying of Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas: If they ask you, 'What is the sign of the Father in you?.' Say to them: 'It is a movement and a rest'" (93). [1] Stang finds these two opposites in the tradition of the divine double, framed in the familiar Platonic dyad of Being and Becoming: on the one hand, eternal Ideas, and, on the other, physical entities, shadows or appearances of the eternal Ideas in the material world, constantly becoming what they had not been, and passing away.

Stang recasts this dyad of Being and Becoming to elucidate the interplay of movement and rest in the tradition of the divine double. The Image of God hidden in "us" is the essential truth, the substance, of the tradition. The multiplicity of formulations that the Image received were the "structure" it received in the diverse teachings of the tradition, and, indeed, in some compartments of orthodoxy, though, with its reverence for, and myths of, unchanging laws and dogmas, orthodoxy remained peripheral to the traditions "figure" (236). Early in his book, without saying so, Stang had prepared the ground for this summary elucidation. In discussing variations of the tradition among the Thomasite texts, he constructed a matrix derived from the secret sayings of Jesus, a tool of autoscopy by which one could "unearth this deeply embedded image" with the promise that the user would "seek find, become troubled and astonished" as Thomas was when Jesus opened his eyes to see the invisible in His wound (101), and they two (each not the other) became also one. This tool did not answer historians' searches for "who" or "what" the divine double was, but, for Stang, it did answer his philosopher's search for "how we can see it by seeing our own reflection" (101, 129-134). However, it by no means satisfied the need for construction of a poetics including, not only the calls of philosophy and the generally disfavored history but also religion.

Perhaps he anticipated that some readers would have misgivings about affinities he postulated among various traditions of the divine double, let alone the familiar tension in academic disputants between "subjectivism" and "historical truth." Stang's book is an inquiry into how the many can be many and yet one, but the destination to which his text had brought them was a new horizon for inquiry while readers could still see signs of the old multiplicity of dissonant theologies. To the unconvinced, he offers, not the "who" and the "what" of monopolistic rules and doctrine, but the continual openness of creative process. He offers too the advice to let the texts speak for themselves, rather than prescribing their meanings to them. The Gospel of Thomas "imagines its reader" and "awake[ns] Jesus in them" (78, 97). The matrix would show them the process of how to see, and become, their divine double, not who or what the double was. It would show them that all had the same primordial double, that all were Thomases and Christs, regardless of their historical Sitz im Leben. They need only "permit the matrix to organize the...disparate testimonies" (cf 133). Still, the great arc of narrative describing the course of the divine double, the "esoteric theme" which was the object of his study, would cut through history even in its atemporal manifestations.

And yet, openness expresses a principle of uncertainty in Stang's thinking, particularly since, at the end of the present inquiry one finds, not conclusion, but a "new horizon of inquiry" (244). Stang poses the enduring anxiety of always seeking redemptive knowledge on the edge of the unknown as a kind of mission impossible (e. g., 177-178, 191-192, 236). Re-iterative readers can be tested by anguishing puzzles and also haunted by the prospect of being caught in "a joke operating on two levels" (cf 163), realizing over and over again the more they learned that they had not known what they thought they knew through unstinting efforts of "reading and interpretation" (106). Stang suspends a damoclean sword over the whole project when he recalls that Plato dramatized a debate between Socrates and Parmenides as a "strenuous game" which threatened "the very metaphysical architecture that undergirds the tradition of the divine double" (53-54). Stang finds the Archimedean point for his investigation in those two contrasting stories of self-knowing (or "autoscopy"), Narcissus's "failed" attempt to escape the finitude of his own existence (183), and Thomas's companionship with Jesus "one and the same" in their duality, together, "a model of salvation as deification" (83, 67-68, 98-99, 122). The Archimedean point is expressed as cognition, or rather in the intuitive expansion of cognition knows as interpretation. Before he attains self-knowledge by achieving "knowledge of the depth of the all" in himself, his knowledge of truth is incomplete. He knows "something without knowing that he has known it." Afterwards, he is enlightened and, by the light within him, he enlightens "the whole world" (122).

For Our Divine Double, Stang has defined his subject to include evidence outside the pale of what became institutionally orthodox Christianity (Manichaeism, admittedly regarded as a Christian heresy, and Neo-platonic philosophy). All the same, his apples do not fall far from the tree, and his paradigmatic instance of divinization comes from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. Though "we do not know" when this particular "tradition" of divinization began (70), it appears to have been the same creative moment, "an explosion of interest in the figure of the double" in the eastern Mediterranean during the second and third centuries, when Pausanias wrote up the story of Narcissus, and Christian authors were imagining Thomas as the twin of Jesus, (3) perhaps by birth and certainly by conjoining in spirit.

One major advance in literary criticism has been attention to gaps, as telling silences in verbal composition. Martin Heidegger developed the quest for "the unsaid in the said" as a tool of analysis, as, for example, in his celebrated and, for some, notorious analysis of Sophocles's Ode in Antigone ominously singing of man as the most "prodigious" among earthly beings. In his works of criticism, and, by concrete illustration, in his Postscript to The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco wrote of authors constructing the world, real or un-real, the model readers (as distinct from the empirical reader) as accomplices of the author, and gaps and silences that by omission spoke of something in the author or in the subject.

Gaps are integral parts of Stang's exposition, partly because of the exiguous and fragmentary nature of his sources. Indeed, some gaps occasion important evidence of ways Stang found to compensate for the fragmentary, opaque, and precious texts at the heart of his review. They indicate how, in de-coding those texts, he re-coded them in an advanced critical method of the present day. Occasionally, Stang, working by "inference" from a text, provides conjectures of his own to replace a lacuna, as he evidently does most pertinently in supplying the absent words of Jesus to Thomas, secret words that Thomas refused to divulge to other disciples. If he did, Thomas said, they would "pick up stones and throw them at me," and fire would burst from the stones and incinerate the disciples (98-100). From his invention, Stang draws out the important question for his exegesis: "Can we all become Thomases? Can we, too, all become Christs?" (98-100). Another exegesis of absent textual confirmation for Stang's argument is his allegorization of "The Hymn of the Pearl," seemingly an interpolation from an unknown source into The Acts of Thomas. This element entered the Thomasite literature from an unknown context, not Christian, and one of Stang's tasks was to infer how it could have seemed relevant to the compiler/author of the poem, who "repurposed" it into the theology in the poem. "We can disperse" the "cloud of questions that hovers over the hymn" simply by discounting its original meaning and context and accenting elements in the poem corresponding with elements in the Acts of Thomas on which "our interest in the divine double" has focused "our gaze." In constituting connections in this inferential way, according to "our" perspective and objectives, the text of the poem will "allegorize itself" (137-143).

Stang's treatment of gaps is instructive in more than readings of individual texts. The quasi-religious term, "intuitive divination" applies in his construction of a broad narrative of the tradition of "our divine double" as well as in the valuation of individual texts. Religion forms a third area of inquiry and speculation, quite distinguishable from philosophy and history. Tertullian referred to it as "Jerusalem" in his question: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem." True to the state of history as an application (e.g., for concrete examples for moral instruction) rather than as a method of inquiry into truth, Tertullian did not include it in the antithesis of Athens and Jerusalem. Religion is tacitly omitted from references by Heidegger and Eco to dialogues between philosophy and literature, even though Eco exploited it splendidly for narrative purposes. Though omitted, religion is still a shadowy presence in the unspoken intentionality of Stang's antithesis between the reading methods of philosophers and historians, yet a shadowing presence strong enough for Christianity to emerge in his analyses of the "we" in his signature phrase, "our divine double." He had forthrightly declared himself on the side of reading philosophically, rather than historically in the matter of critical analysis, indeed, applying philosophical analysis to "decidedly unphilosophical sources" (63). But in his analysis, he has introduced something recognizable as a poetics of faith.

He had referred to the apocryphal writings about the Apostle Thomas in that declaration, and perhaps by extension to Manichaean documents. Excluding Plotinus from the "unphilosophical" category, it is rather a surprise to turn from the three monographic analyses of sectarian texts (Christian, Manichaean, and Neo-platonic) and find that the overarching narrative into which Stang has recycled the spolia of those source bases is historical to the bird's-eye view, but fideistic in its inner workings. Under the banner of an "esoteric strand," the divine double, an energy-pack of the poetics of faith, becomes a continuing impulse for thought and action "from Plato to Plotinus,"--sometimes "on the heels of Plato and the Gospel of Thomas-- and, encysted in other concerns and motifs, to be recovered in the composition of and reading of Stang's book (22, 143-144). Indeed, Stang's critical stance, and his method first, of formulating, and then, of representing the "concept" or "cluster of concerns" draws, to be sure, on the fideistic spolia deriving from Late Antiquity, bundled together with recent philosophical devices and motives into a thoroughly up-to-date mentalité, historical without being antiquarian or archaeological. In fact, it is fideistically transhistorical. In the process, the "decidedly unphilosophical sources" have been re-coded into "philosophical tradition" (231), or rather into a quasi-philosophical tradition. The poetics of faith have been evident in Stang's intricate and sophisticated exposition of the two terms in his title, Our Divine Double, and in the pardigmatic twinning of Christ and the Apostle Thomas, the keystone of his reconstructive work, a moment of self-recognition entirely recognizable as an epiphany. How does it enter into the warp and woof of his unpacking of the sources and, indeed, into the construction of his overarching narrative?

There is an unexplained anomaly in the structure of Stang's narrative. On the one hand, he draws a clear line from Plato, the initiator of the tradition, to Plotinus, its consummator (e.g., 22, 118). On the other, he interpolates Christian and Manichaean teachings "awaiting the arrival of Plotinus" while "still in Plato's company" (118, referring specifically to the Excerpta ex Theodato). No matter that the Thomas literature, surviving in small fragments and in guarded oracular expression, intended, without betraying too much of secret doctrine, to guide the initiate toward hidden knowledge that, rightly interpreted, would save them, and that it seems not to dovetail with the evolving orthodoxy. No matter either that, while Manichaeans claimed that they were true Christians, they abandoned the prophetic Hebrew legacy that the budding orthodox stretched every nerve to claim as their own. Stang's narrative preserves a steady critical suspicion of orthodoxy. Finally, Plotinus clearly did follow in Plato's footsteps, even as he fundamentally rethought and recast his legacy, but it is not at all clear how he folded Christianity or Manichaeism into his synthesis. Stang certainly does advance intriguing and debatable ways in which the four texts in the Thomas literature "followed on the heels of Plato" and three others possibly also followed on the heels of The Gospel of Thomas. But that the Thomasite "threads of the divine double moving forward" also weave through Manichaeism "and even Plotinus's Enneads (144), and indeed into patristic theology during and after the ascendancy of "conciliar orthodoxy" seems much harder to determine. There is some reason to think that, wrapped in post-modernism's critical methods, Stang's book itself is a witness to the "Manichaean inheritance and innovation of earlier themes and threads in the tradition of the divine double" (183). As I read Stang's narrative of the tradition of the divine double from the post-apostolic to the patristic era, I see a gap behind this anomaly, and a conjectural leap across it. The gap comes precisely in the critical quest for openness. In choosing Caravaggio's Doubting Thomas for the cover of another book, The Open Body, Stang illustrated his case in Our Divine Double that Jesus did not invite Thomas to put his hand into the wound in Jesus's side, but rather opened it to him as though it were a text to read and inwardly to digest. This marked a swerve away from the received theological connection between faith that comes from physical evidence and faith that comes from cognition: that is, from observation and interpretation. Stang underscores the importance of this openness to interpretation according to the measure of enlightenment granted each person, subverting orthodoxy with his question: "The radical question posed by The Gospel of Thomas, then, is simply, can we all become Thomases? Can we, too, all become Christs?" Indeed "our primordial image is uniform": namely, Jesus (100). In this sense, he reinterpreted The Gospel of Thomas and paid tribute to it as, "perhaps our first, but more importantly, our most profound, Christian witness to the divine double" (106). Is this assessment a clue to the connection that enabled Stang to construct a narrative of the "tradition of the divine double" that led, as he said, "on the heels of Plato and the The Gospel of Thomas," to Plotinus and to "us": that is, to what "we are each called upon" to do as Christians to realize Plato's vision of humanity becoming God (234).

It is important to remember that, in stating that his method of reading is that of a philosopher, rather than that of a historian, Stang has plainly declared the direction of his work: he is not concerned with the "who" or the "what," but with the "how," especially "how I think the Gospel of Thomas understands itself to work on its reader (78). In finding the openness to interpretation through divine intuition exemplified in the story of Jesus and Thomas, Stang seems close to Manichaeism in its general conception of how to read the Gospel. It would be sheer speculation to remember Cyril of Jerusalem's warning that The Gospel of Thomas was dangerous to read because it had been written by one of Mani's closest disciples. However, other analogies between Stang's interpretive method in action and Manichaeism suggest a tacit sympathy. These begin innocuously enough with his assertion that he works as a philosopher, not as a historian, concerned with the physical aspects of existence, with the "how's," rather than with the "who's" and "what's." His interpretation of intuitive union and openness in Christ's extension of intimate togetherness with Thomas, not through physical touch but through interpretation, thickens the broth, as does his emphasis on multiplicities in the "polymorphic" Jesus and the Intellect Plotinus imagined composed of myriads of faces. There was also an affinity with the Manichaean Jesus as a cosmic being, rather than as a suffering, dying, and resurrected savior. Manichaean degrees of physicality, crowned by sexual abstinence of the perfecti has an analogue in his nuanced and fascinating discussion of encratism imputed by some critics to some of the Thomas writings. He finds that the imputation is correct regarding The Acts of Thomas, where there is "an ethic of sexual renunciation" and an explicit renunciation of "worldly sex and marriage in order to become the bride of Christ..." (123-129). Pace other critics, he does not find it in The Gospel of Thomas. There, divine doubling, indeed the "multiplication of doubles," is commended "not [through] any sort of renunciation, but rather [through] the interpretation of Jesus's secret sayings" (85-96). In a way, Stang's analogies between reading (and interpreting) and eating harmonize with Manichaean dietary restrictions as well as with Feuerbach's celebrated axiom: "Der Mensch ist was er isst.

Yet another characteristic of Stang's interpretive apparatus points to a Manichaean swerve of his imagination in filling the gap between Stang's philosophical method of criticism and his "decidedly unphilosophical sources." That characteristic is itself an absence: the absence of Judaism from his interpretation of early Christian autoscopy. It is an arresting fact that the centerpiece of Stang's method is a style of reading practiced by the great Archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 293-373) in reading the psalms, while Stang's analysis, and the narrative of tradition he constructs, has no place for the Hebrew Bible. The locus classicus for engaging with the divine double through reading is the autoscopy of the Apostle Thomas leading to recognition of Jesus's divinity, as elliptically rendered in The Gospel of Thomas. But what did the Gospel mean? Stang reads the sense between the lines of the "secret sayings" in that mystically oracular text "in the light of Athanasius's Psalter" (64, 253-254). They were "close contemporary analogue[s]," Stang reasoned, both "children of Plato, descendants of the dialogue" in which readers found themselves mirrored, both in their actual, flawed conditions, and in their ideal, divinized, states for which they were made (101-102). They were also both Egyptian (64-65).

The nature of devotional reading is the crux of Stang's case. Surely, argument from analogy in this case has all its generic weaknesses, particularly since no account is taken of the disparity between Athanasius's simple declarative affirmations and the Gospel's occult words intended both to conceal and to reveal. Perhaps, Stang's forthright strategy of writing as a philosopher about "decidedly unphilosophical sources" (p. 63) adequately explains the leap across the gap by analogy. However, there is also reminiscence of an earlier era when philosophy and history were children in the same house of intellect, linked by intuition of truths beyond and encompassing them both. The literal was twinned with the spiritual sense, making theology a kind of poetry. [2] The absence of the Hebrew Scriptures from Stang's account of early Christian searches for religious identity may indeed follow from the philosophical commitments he brought to this study. Much in it savors of the academic parting of the ways between philosophy and theology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; but Stang cites an antidote in Tatian's belief that, in converting to Christianity, he had adopted a "new 'philosophy'": namely, a "'barbarian philosophy' very ancient, and certainly older than the Greeks" (109).

Something is disclosed in Stang's silence about the perennial Christian ambivalence in claiming, as Julian the Apostate put it, to be "different from the Jews, [and] still, precisely speaking, Israelites...." [3] I am inclined to think that Stang's confidence in the New Criticism, and particularly in the multiplying concentric circles of openness through reiterative, intensive reading, had a determining effect that appears in the swerve from a recognized, but marginalized, "cluster" of Christian texts, to Manichaean literature, and finally to a consummation of his narrative in Plotinus's Enneads. Stang records that The Gospel of Thomas became "open" to him through this method of reading and assimilation through autoscopy, and that Our Divine Double is a record of his journey which, I infer, other readers might vicariously experience by reading. The openness of Manichaeism toward other religions and sects stands in silent contrast with the strict monotheism of the Mosaic Law, and the exclusiveness of Hebrew prohibition of exogamy. Stang strikingly refers to this openness with a metaphor of eating, a related area of Manichaean discipline, Manichaeana tradition's variations on the theme of the divine double were "omnivorous," he writes, in its "accumulative" and "innovative" habits, out of the same mould as "Manichaean theology and mythology" (184). This principle of "omnivorous" inclusion naturally carried exclusion, or expulsion, as its corollary, with two exclusions signaled in his text.

Stang's hermeneutic of suspicion toward orthodoxy, with its closed rules and angles, the antithesis of openness also figures in the construction of his narrative. It figures in his swift dispatch of scholarly debate over the use of the term "Jewish-Christians" for parties in the interchanges of Christians (in various factions), Manichaeans, and Zoroastrians (101, 166-167). It figures in the line of his overarching narrative from Plato to Plotinus, and to the eventual repression he proposes as caused by "conciliar orthodoxy" after the Council of Chalcedon, with survivals restricted to debates over extensions of Manichaean dualism in theodiceal debates, and in controversies over the dual, or single, nature of Christ. The metaphors of eating he applied to Neo-platonic traditions of the divine double were far from the omnivorous character of Manichaeism. They were far more specialized and unattractive in connotations. Writing of the Plotinian soul, he described the authentic soul, pure intellect, "feasting on the intelligible," and overtaken by "another human" rising up from the depths and coiling around the earlier soul "like a lamprey on a host or a tumor around an organ," and in this parasitism "making a pair" (200-201). Later, in discussion of Neoplatonic ideas that prepared for theodiceal debate after the triumph of "conciliar orthodoxy," he wrote of evil "as parahypostasis, a byproduct of or a parasite on beings" (242-243).

The merit of Stang's case that "conciliar orthodoxy" inhibited and indeed repressed the development of the theological anthropology of the divine double can be seen in Augustine's almost schematic comparison of authorities claimed by the Manichaeans for their teachings with those claimed by the "Catholic Church." On the Manichaean side, Augustine wrote, his nine years among them had offered no authority beyond specious word-play, images conjured up by the imagination, picturing God in human form, all fictive, grounded in sensual perception and facile enough to deceive the ignorant, and ratified by the pretentious and lying assertion of Mani's apostleship. On the Catholic side, he continued, there was the multiple, but unitary, witness, first, of peoples and nations, second, of the Church inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, and established by age, third, not of one person, but of the apostolic succession continuing from the See of Peter down to the present episcopal order, all evidenced by the name "Catholic" itself. Above all, these witnesses were credited, not by words signifying human thoughts, but by the "teaching of the incorruptible Truth itself, the one true, inner Teacher," and by widening as authentic self-revelations of Truth enlarged. By contrast, Augustine concluded, the Manichaeans had reached the concentric limits of their doctrines. They had nowhere to turn for confirmation outside the imaginations of their own fantasies and customs. The contrast, Augustine wrote, was something like the difference between terror inspired by a real wild animal in a forest and that provoked by a painting on a wall. [4]

Stang's book is compelling in its devotion to an ancient search for a way to "our higher self" (161). That the way is arduous and fraught with missteps is not unexpected, not is the news that keeping to the way requires a hidden knowledge, that achieving it comes through transcendence irradiating humanity with divinity, or that it brings consciousness of a single, primordial image of being human albeit realized in myriad ways and recognized by those with enlightened eyes, regardless of historical differences in time and space. The destination reached by this fideistic (and Manichaean-influenced) poetics is an authentic community in which all, ancient and of today, are simultaneous in their primordial unity, a community that knows how to interpret the veiled realities and enter a reciprocity of "mutual cultivation and deification." Stang has exemplified the way as reading (and digesting) in which we all are authors of the divine double, writing as well as reading our own "I" and not-"I," and so becoming God. But is his prescription for the texts–say, The Gospel of Thomas to imagine its readers and awaken Jesus in them–something more than ventriloquism by the aspiring interpreter? This was the weakness that Parmenides saw in the Platonic metaphysics on which the tradition of "our divine double" stood, and about which he began a debate with Socrates that continues to our own day.

In decoding his original sources, Stang urges that the texts must be allowed to speak for themselves. Yet, he has invented some of his main analytical tools (including "our divine double"), a method of analysis (an amalgam), tools of assessment (e. g., the matrix), and a narrative line (the esoteric thread of intuitive intuition). For the other-minded, the difficulties and obscurities, the lacunae, in the sources and deviances in textual transmission obdurately remain integral parts of the structure. Opening his own creative process in formulating Our Divine Double has proven a distinctive and valuable achievement, partly because it also lays open philological disintegrations, and significant reorientations in the house of intellect.



1. The Gospel According to Thomas, ed. and trans. A. Guillaumont et all., (Leiden, B: E. J. Brill and New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1959), Log. 89.34-90.2 (50), p. 29. For a recent, short poem of parallel inspiration, see Denise Levertov, "St. Thomas Didymus," in The Stream and the Sapphire (New York, NY: New Directions, 1997), 81-82

2. See James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014), xi-xv, 5-8. Pico della Mirandola (in his Oration on the Dignity of Humanity and Erasmus (in Oration in Praise of Folly) followed contention in representing the literae humanioresas an integrated hierarchy crowned by mystical theology.

3. Julian the Apostate, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright, "Against the Galilaeans," in The Works of the Emperor Julian (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 253A, 3.392-393.

4. Augustine, Against the Letter of Mani Which They Call 'Fundamenti', 4.5, 10.11, 11.12, 12.15, 14.17-18, 15.19, 19.21, 23.25, 27.29, 34.38, 41.

Copyright (c) 2017 Karl F. Morrison

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