The Bible and English Literature by Northrop Frye - Full Lecture 24

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Gerard Beckers, Chris Rodgers
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Ted Glickman
Bill Somerville
Robert Sandler
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Bob Rodgers
Robert Fysh (2008)
Jane Widdicombe

Northrop Frye and Michael Dolzani

Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria University




Each of the seven phases of revelation is the antitype of the preceding phase. The sense of an intelligible order in creation points to the redemption of Israel from tyranny in the Exodus, which in a sense completes the action of creation. Revolution in turn points towards an intensified sense of law, and law is individualized in wisdom. Wisdom's ideals of continuity and stability are widened by prophecy's individualizing of the original revolutionary impulse. In the New Testament, it is prophecy in particular that is regarded as fulfilled by the gospel. The gospel is fulfilled by the apocalypse, whose antitype can only be a new creation. That new creation is a symbol for the recreation of the book in the mind of the leader, not by his ego, but by the Holy Spirit, the 'word of God in the heart'.

Program Lecture Outline: Key Facts

  1. Each of the seven phases of revelation is the antitype of the preceding phase, and the type of the succeeding one. This is another aspect of Biblical typology.
  2. The idea furnished by creation of a controlled and intelligible order points logically to the redemption of God's people from tyranny as an aspect of that planning and order. Hence, the Exodus is in a way the completion of the work of Creation itself, as in Isaiah 51, where God's destruction of the dragon of chaos is linked with his deliverance of Israel from tyranny, which was symbolically a deliverance out of the Red Sea.
  3. The revolutionary experience in turn intensified the sense of social unity, so that law becomes the reality to which the revolution had pointed.
  4. Wisdom individualizes the law, and prophecy widens wisdom's perspective by individualizing the revolutionary impulse, adding a polarizing sense of alienation and deliverance to wisdom's ideals of stability and continuity.
  5. Whereas for Judaism the Old Testament is primarily a book of law, for Christianity it is primarily a book of prophecy; and it is prophecy in particular that is regarded as fulfilled by the gospel.
  6. Apocalypse is the reality to which the gospel points: but what is the antitype of the apocalypse itself? It can only be a new creation.
  7. Milton makes especially clear, however, that ‘the word of God in the heart’ has a higher authority than the Bible as a book. Therefore, the real new creation is the recreation of the book in the reader1s mind, not by his ego, but by the Holy Spirit.

Biblical Passages Cited

Isaiah 51: 9-10.           Deliverance from tyranny out of the Red Sea as fulfillment of the process of creation that began with killing the dragon of chaos.

Revelation 22: 16-19. Conclusion to the Book of Revelation functioning as a conclusion to the biblical canon.

Romans 8: 20-22.        The gospel as a new Creation.

The Teacher's Perspective

The aspect of apocalypse that we are dealing with in this program is the one reflected in Revelation 21:5: Behold, I make all things new’. As Prof. Frye points out in program 29, this saying is linked to two things in the chapter where it appears. First is the sense of a renewed nature, ‘a new heaven and new earth’ (21:1) and a fulfilled history: ‘and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people(21:3). In other words, there is the sense of a recreated space and time. But the other connection is with language itself: the very next thing God says is: ‘Write: for these words are true and faithful’ (21:5); then he says, ‘It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end’ (21:6). Prof. Frye points out in the next program the suggestion here that God is 1the beginning and end of all verbal possibilities, the totality of all the things that it is possible to express with words.’ Since the recreation in the reader’s mind is the antitype, the reality to which the apocalypse points, it is apparent that our normal relationship to language has been reversed. That is, the verbal symbols are not pointing to a greater reality outside themselves; the vision of a redeemed nature and history is rather a symbol pointing to a greater reality in the metaphors of the Bible. Somehow, myth and metaphor truly create their own reality, rather than reflecting a reality outside themselves. They are not descriptive: they are creative in the absolute sense of the term. By ordinary standards of reality, this can only be considered totally mad. But if ordinary standards of reality were enough to live by, where would be the need for the Bible?

The Book of Revelation’s emphasis upon books and language is at any rate most interesting. It takes over a great deal from the Book of Ezekiel, including the vision of measuring with a reed that we have discussed as etymologically connected with our word 'canon'. But what is measured this time is Jerusalem (21:15): and John is explicit that the Temple is now recreated as the body of the Lamb himself (21:22). The only people who will enter that city are those who are written in a book, 'the Lamb's book of life' (21:27). In the warning not to remove anything from 'this book', i.e., the Book of Revelation, the author warns that for transgressors the punishment will fit the crime, and they will themselves be removed from a book: 'God shall take away his part of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book' (22:19). He could hardly be stating more clearly that the book of life, the holy city and 'this book' are all the same thing, are all being metaphorically identified.

The idea of a totality of verbal possibilities lies at the center of Prof. Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, where he calls it 'the order of words'. Within literary criticism itself, this can never be more than a postulate of order and intelligibility within literature as a total structure. In his discussion of the anagogic phase of literary symbolism, he says that while Coleridge based his whole theory of criticism on his conviction that this order of words would become identified with the Christian Logos, criticism itself can never make that identification without becoming something more than a science. The most one can say is that although the Logos may transcend the order of words which is the total form of literature, it can nevertheless only be approached through that structure. If God transcends the human imagination, he still can only be found through the exercise of that imagination.

The regular Biblical commentators are not too much help on the apocalyptic phase of literature: 'fantastic' and 'bizarre' are what even the better ones are left saying about its symbolism. This is peculiar enough when apocalypse seems once again to be a form expressing the spirit of the age: 'apocalyptic' is a word so widely used in speaking of twentieth-century literature that it threatens to become meaningless. The twentieth century has also shown itself adept at digging up and rehabilitating the apocalyptic literature from previous phases: the class may be familiar with pop musician Al Stewart's setting of part of the oracles of Nostradamus, to choose an example almost at random. A favorite pastime is of course application of the allegorical sections to contemporary events. On occasion, it turns into something grimmer than a pastime: Charles Manson, according to Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter, identified himself with Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:11.

Abaddon is an interesting example of the flexibility of metaphor: the word also traditionally referred to the pit itself, and Job 28:22 seems to have it both ways at once.

It would be interesting to know whether Dylan Thomas knew of this when he used Abaddon with a similar double meaning in 'Altarwise by owl-light'. Whether he did or not, he almost certainly intended readers to remember that Abaddon, under his Greek name Apollyon, menaced Christian's path in Pilgrim's Progress. In the Douay version of the Bible that Manson read, he also has a Latin name that seems to have made quite an impression: Exterminans.

The 'beast' in chapter 13, whose number is 666, is almost certainly intended to be Nero. Nero was deposed, yet because he committed suicide privately by cutting his throat, the rumor arose that he was not really dead, but would return to Rome at the head of an army. In fact, several impostors showed up who claimed to be Nero, one of them at the head of a Parthian army. But that is probably why the beast in 13:3 has a deadly wound to the head which nevertheless gets healed. The legend has led credence to the identification of the beast with Hitler, who also committed suicide privately but is sometimes rumored even today to be still alive. Another aspiring Antichrist of the twentieth century, Aleister Crowley, also identified himself with 666.

This tendency to find hidden significance in events (and to write about it in complicated allegories) is part of what Thomas Pynchon calls paranoia in Gravity's Rainbow, where he connects it specifically with such things as Hitler's reliance on astrology but also sees it as a strong element in contemporary life generally. Apocalypse is often paranoid enough all right, especially on its political side, though often for fairly good reason: the one apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel, was almost certainly written by someone hiding out during the Maccabean Rebellion, when possession of a copy of the Torah was a capital offence. The political allegory in chapters 7-12 of that book is so complicated that it cannot be read without a key to decipher it. The excesses in this area no doubt account in part for Biblical scholars' urge to set such works somewhat apart from the rest of Biblical literature, especially from the more 'humanistic' aspects of the gospel: the author of the Anchor Bible commentary on Revelation actually thinks of it as a Jewish work to which three preliminary Christian chapters and a number of other Christian references have been attached.

If the allegory of apocalyptic writing reflects external historical events, its symbolism can reflect more inward psychological ones; and it is here that the resemblance of apocalypse to madness becomes uncomfortably insistent. Indeed, the difference between apocalyptic vision and certain types of psychotic hallucination seems to be the degree of conscious control: the materials are more or less identical, and the history of apocalyptic poets with mental breakdowns is a very unhappy one. Most poignant of all is perhaps the eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart, whose Jubilate Agno was actually written in a madhouse. The class may compare this astonishing work, whose degree of coherence is somewhat debated, to his more controlled apocalyptic poem Song to David, also to the work of Smart's contemporary, Blake, who was once himself considered to be mad. A less obvious example is perhaps Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos, written during his ordeal in the cage at Pisa. Once again, the teacher may refer to Joseph Campbell's article on myth and schizophrenia in Myths to Live By. Prof. Frye's idea that man creates history to disguise the apocalypse from himself is paralleled by Ernest Becker's idea of necessary repression in The Denial of Death. It should be remembered, however, that madness remains a social judgment which means that a vindicated madman calls the standards of society into question. This is important as the prophets and Jesus himself were so often reviled as mad.

Since we will be looking at the structure of the Book of Revelation itself in the next program, the teacher may want to spend some time in this one telling the class a little about some of the other apocalyptic writings, and perhaps taking a look with them at some. To start with the canonical Scriptures, apocalypse in the Old Testament begins as an aspect of prophecy, as in the Book of Joel, in Zechariah 9-14 or in Isaiah 24-27 (called 'the little apocalypse'). There are also the more visionary parts of Ezekiel: see Ezekiel 1- 3, 8-11 (the vision of wheels), 23 (a political allegory) 28 (the Covering Cherub), 37 (the dry bones), 38 (Gog), and 40 (the Temple and the measuring reed). After the return from Babylon, with the founding of modern Judaism, apocalypse becomes the successor to prophecy. An example of this phase is the Book of Daniel. Some pieces of Daniel, for textual reasons, are found only in the Apocrypha, including the very famous story of Susanna and the Elders. There is also the breathtakingly beautiful 'Song of the Three Holy Children', a praise of Creation sung by the three friends of Daniel in the fiery furnace: the students may compare the apocalyptic imagery of fire discussed in program 9, and such poems as Dylan Thomas' 'Ceremony After a Fire Raid'. Other than this, the important apocalyptic work found in the Apocrypha is II Esdras. The class may compare the anguished questions of Esdras (the Chronicler's Ezra) about the existence of evil to those of Job: the answers are much more within the framework of law, and there is in fact a very explicit discussion of what would later become the doctrine of original sin. They may also compare it to the first poem in A.R. Ammons' Collected Poems, beginning 'So I said I am Ezra'. II Esdras is a Jewish work of the first century A.D. to which Christian references have been added; the first two chapters and the last two are not part of the original work. The best known apocalypse in the Pseudepigrapha is I Enoch.

Supplementary Reading

  1. Biblical Passages


Revelation 21:5.    'Behold, I make all things new.

Revelation 21:1.    'a new heaven and new earth'.

Revelation 21:3.    'and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people1

Revelation 21:6.    'I am the Alpha and Omega'.

Revelation 21:15. 'The golden reed to measure the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21:22. 'And I saw no temle therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it'.

Revelation 21:27. 'the Lamb's book of life'.

Revelation 22:19.        'And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book'.

Revelation 9:11.    Abaddon or Apollyon.

Job 28:22.              Abaddon as 'destruction and death'.

Revelation 13:3.    'and his deadly wound was healed': the beast.

  1. Corresponding Passages in The Great Code


Chapter Four. Typology I.

p. 95. Antichrist, the beast, 666.

Chapter Five. Typology II.

p. 135-138. Apocalypse.

Chapter Six. Metaphor II.

p. 161-168. Apocalyptic imagery.

Chapter Seven. Myth II.

p. 176-177. Interpretations of the allegory in Daniel and Revelation.

Chapter Eight. Language II.

p. 199-200. The Book of Revelation and the canon.

Suggested Essay or Discussion Questions

  1. What has the threat of world or nuclear war contributed to the imagery and theme of apocalypse? Discuss Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove, Edith Sitwell's 'Three Poems for the Atomic Age', Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts in this context.
  2. How is the threat of decadence or disintegration from within connected with these more externalized symbols of apocalypse? Possible examples include Samuel Delany's Dhalgren, Thomas Pynchon's V, J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, Eliot's The Waste Land. Note that this 'decline and fall' motif is associated originally by Gibbon with the Roman Empire, which was concurrent with the birth of apocalyptic expectations, Christian and otherwise (see The Great Code, p. 98).
  3. How are these end-of-the-world ways of characterizing apocalypse related to the profounder understanding of it as the fulfillment of Biblical revelation? (Hint: one possible answer is contained in the type-antitype relationship).



Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria University



I've been dealing with various phases of what is traditionally called revelation in the Bible, and it seems to me that what we said at the beginning of the course about the way the Bible is arranged, with its Old Testament providing the types, in the Christian reading, of the antitypes of the New Testament, is a principle that applies here as well.

First of all, the conception of creation in the Bible provides the sense of an intelligible and controlled order: and the reality to which that points is the redemption of the people of God from a state of tyranny and exploitation. So in that sense, the Exodus is the antitype of the Creation; and in references to bringing Israel up from Egypt, it is spoken of as really the completion of the work of creation itself, as for example in Isaiah 51, where God is addressed as having destroyed the dragon of chaos at the Creation and then destroyed the force of tyranny with the deliverance of Israel out of the sea.

The Exodus gives to the Biblical religions that curiously revolutionary quality which Judaism and Christianity and Islam all have to some degree: and we saw that a nation which has gone through that kind of revolutionary experience becomes a nation with a very strong sense of its own corporate unity because of the experience which its people have shared. Thus, law becomes really the antitype of the birth of Israel at the deliverance from Egypt, or the reality to which it points.

Law, of course, is a social thing, and consequently is approximate and incomplete until it is incorporated in the attitude of the individual: and we saw that wisdom in the Bible was thought of as essentially the individualization of the law.

Then we saw that wisdom is a way of life which looks for continuity and stability, persistence in the same line of conduct, and faces the future with a mental attitude described in the Vulgate as prudentia, prudence, the stabilizing of future contingency by past experience. And that, we saw, was something that leads to a much more radical conception, a conception of prophecy, which individualizes the revolutionary feeling just as wisdom does the law, and sees man as at the bottom of a U-curve, between his original state and his final deliverance.

Then again, it is prophecy in particular that is regarded in the Christian Bible as fulfilled by the gospel because, whereas for Judaism the book that Christianity calls the Old Testament is essentially a book of the law, in Christianity the Old Testament is primarily a book of prophecy; and the prophecy is regarded as fulfilled by the gospel, which is the account of God himself in human form going through this U-curve that we described earlier: that is, as descending through the Incarnation into the level of human experience and rising from that again in the Resurrection.

I had to complicate my account of the gospel by talking about the different attitude to time which it seems to me to require. Part of my reason for stressing that is that our notions of time still are apt to persist unchanged; and there's a great deal of advantage in an attitude which keeps its antitypes still in the future. As long as they are as yet unfulfilled, it is in a sense easier to trust to them. That is, Christianity was confronted very early with the dilemma that the redemption of mankind was supposed to have taken place, and yet history seemed to go on very largely unchanged. There is no difficulty about that as long as you remember that two conceptions of time are involved: but if you've only got one conception of time, it is a problem. So concurrently with the conception of the gospel, we have the notion of the gospel itself as being fulfilled in a Second Coming, which puts an end to history as we have known it. Now actually, that is at least metaphorically true of the gospel itself, because one central fact about the conception of Jesus in the New Testament is that he is both master and servant, and symbolically, the dialectic of history ends at the point at which the master and the servant become the same person.

The relation of the first coming to the Second Coming is again portrayed in that image that we found at the end of the Book of Job: 'I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee'. That is, the gospel is essentially an oral teaching, and a great deal of emphasis is thrown on the hearing of the Word. The physical appearance of Christ is in curious contrast to the things that he says: his utterances are gathered up and recorded with great care, but the fact that he was bound to resemble some people more closely than others could never have been anything but an embarrassment to the Church, and so we adopted that vaguely Italinate compromise as our visible conception of Christ. But the apocalypse is essentially an opening of vision, and the phrase that appears very near the beginning of the Book of Revelation is that every eye shall see him.

Now what they see, of course, is the Word made an object of vision rather than something listened to. I previously remarked, I think, on the fact that the Book of Revelation is a dense mosaic of allusions to the Old Testament: Ezekiel and Daniel and Zechariah and Isaiah are made the stuff and texture of the vision that is portrayed in the Book of Revelation itself. The author of Revelation seems to have been closer to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament than most of the New Testament writers, and so when he says that he saw this in a vision on Patmos, the statement is not a contradiction of the fact that his book is a dense mosaic of allusions to Old Testament imagery. In the terms that he was trying to present, there is no difference between what he sees in vision on Patmos and what he sees in the text of Ezekiel or Zechariah, because what he is seeing is primarily for him the meaning of the Word of God. That is why there is such an emphasis on vision in the book, although Revelation is not at all a clearly visualized book. There have been many illustrators that have struggled with its seven-headed and ten-horned dragon, and their testimony is unanimous that the Book of Revelation is not technically visualized. What is thrown into a pattern and more or less projected on a screen is the structure of imagery in the Bible presented as a single unity.

And just as the conception of the relation of the gospel to prophecy relates the present event in the Gospels to the past, so the conception of the apocalypse relates it to a future, so, that there have always been in what one might call populist Christianity a strong hankering for a dramatic end to history to come at a very short time in the future, which will end time as we have known it.

The popular conception of time in Christianity is perhaps one of its least attractive features. The seventeenth century with Galileo saw mythological space replaced by scientific space, and the Church managed to survive that: we discovered that we could live without the metaphor of God as up there in the sky. The remark of Khruschev when the early Russian astronauts started exploring outer space, that they didn't find any trace of God up there, didn't really come with very much of a disastrous impact on any of the western religions: we're past that particular structure of metaphor and don't need to project it anymore.

But at the very time when that revolution in space was occurring, we had Archbishop Ussher in seventeenth-century England explaining that the world was created in 4000 B.C. and would last for six thousand years plus one thousand years millennium. Consequently, because there had been an error of four years, the millennium will start in 1996. I think that most of us are resigned to the high probability that the millennium will not start in 1996: in other words, we've gone past the metaphor of time just as we got over the metaphor of space in connection with the existence or activity of God. During the nineteenth century, various millennial sects used to gather on top of a mountain to wait for the end of the world. But the irony of their situation was revealed by the existence of the mountain itself, which had been there for millions of years and had every prospect of staying there for several million years more. So that is why I put the emphasis I do on the necessity of transcending our regular notions of time and space in order to understand what the Bible is talking about. When it talks of time, and says that the kairos, the crucial moment of time, is at hand, it is not talking about the ticking of a watch.

The word 'apocalypse', the name of the last book of the Bible, is the Greek word for revelation. That is why the book is called Revelation in English translation, and what John at Patmos sees in the book is a panorama of certain things in human experience taking on different forms. There is an analogy which seems to be a fairly useful one in the Oriental scripture known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. When a man is dying, a priest comes to his house, and when the man dies, the priest starts reading the Book of the Dead into his ear, because the corpse is assumed to be able to hear the reading and to be guided by what is said. The priest explains to the corpse that he is going to have a progression of visions, first of peaceful deities and then of wrathful deities, and that he is to realize that these are simply his own repressed thoughts and images coming to the surface because they have been released by death; and that if he could only understand that they are coming out of his mind, he could be delivered from their power, because it is really his own power. It is also assumed that practically every corpse to whom this book is read will be too stupid to understand what's going on, and will go on from one blunder to another until finally he wakes up in the world again: because the assumption behind it is one of reincarnation.

In the Book of Revelation, something of that kind is going on too. The sun is turned into darkness and the moon into blood, there are horses riding across the world, there are huge dragons emerging out of the sea, and the most fantastic events are taking place; but again, these are the repressed images of a persecuted people coming to the surface, and they are its consciousness of what is occurring. So one wonders if it is possible to go a step further and suggest that man creates what he calls history in order to conceal what is really happening from himself. What applies to the apocalyptic vision in Revelation may also apply to the story of Jesus in the Gospels. The Gospels are a fulfillment of prophecy: therefore they can hardly be history as we understand history. We think of history as trying to put the reader where the events were. History tells the reader what he would have seen if he'd been present, say, at the assassination of Caesar. But what the Gospels tell us is rather something like this: if you had been present on the hills of Bethlehem in the year nothing, you might not have heard a chorus of angels. But what you would have seen and heard would have missed the whole point of what was actually going on. Thus, the antitypes of history and of prophecy as we have them in the gospel and the apocalypse give you not what you would have seen and heard, or what I would have seen and heard, but what was actually going on which we don't have the spiritual vision to reach to.

The Bible ends in Revelation 22: 'I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely'. Then we go on to a caution of the type that one often gets in sacred books, saying, you are not to add to or take away from a single word of what is written in this book. Now, the superficial meaning of 'this book' is apparently just the Book of Revelation, but the more I study it, the more convinced I am that the author of the Book of Revelation is quite deliberately making his book a coda or conclusion to the entire canon. I don't know how much he knew about the canon in his day, nor do I think it matters, but I think that 'this book' has perhaps a much wider reference than the Book of Revelation. He says of 'this book' that nothing is to be added or taken away: in other words, this is it. There is no more. This is where the Bible ends. You notice that it is a remarkably open ending.

'The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely'. The suggestion seems to be that the Bible reaches in its closing words, not an end, but a beginning. And that beginning is in the mind of the reader. So that the apocalypse, in its turn, becomes a type. In that case, what is its antitype? If you look over that list, you'll see there's only one thing it can possibly be, and that is where we started, with a new creation: which is how Paul describes the gospel in Romans and elsewhere.

In Milton, for example, you have a great many prose writings and of course all his poetry devoted to the general principle that the Bible must be given an authority independent of the Church, so that the Church does not interpret the Bible, or at least its interpretation is not definitive. Instead, Christianity takes the form of a dialogue between the Word of God and the Church. And yet, while Milton places the authority of the Bible higher than the authority of the Church, he also places the authority of what he calls the 'Word of God in the heart', that is, the reader's comprehension of the Bible, higher than the Bible itself. That sounds as though he were setting up a standard of what is called private judgment over against the whole of history and tradition. But that's not the way Milton was thinking at all. For him, it is in the long run not the ego, not the individual eye, that reads the Bible at all, but the Holy Spirit within the reader. And that of course, being a Person of God, has a unity that transcends that of the individual reader.

The important thing is the reversal of perspective which takes place in the reader's mind-or should take place in the reader's mind-when he reaches the end of the Bible, which is also the beginning of his life. Bernard Shaw remarks about the mousetrap play in Hamlet that Claudius is enthralled by the play, not because it's a great play, but because it's about him. That is true also of the Bible: that its meaning is de te fabula, the story is about you. And the recreation of the book the reader's mind is the end at which it is directed. Therefore, the Creation spoken of in Genesis is not for us primarily the beginning of nature as such, but rather the beginning of conscious understanding, where the primary defining limits are the beginning and the end, and it winds up with this divine Creation which God made and saw to be good being recreated in the reader's mind.

The new Creation will actually incorporate the whole sequence: it would start certainly as a revolution in the reader's mind and would also encapsulate the whole sequence down to the apocalypse itself. It's obvious that if these are all types of antitypes in a single process, they all have to be an essential part of the conclusion. For there can certainly be no sense of a new Creation without a revolutionary expansion of consciousness.

This new Creation is not in the egocentric mind, is not in the individual mind. It's in the mind of the individual reader as a member of a community, and it's in the community as a community within the Holy Spirit, the Person of God. I keep coming back to Milton because he seems to put these things very lucidly: that is how Milton explains in his day why Christianity becomes a revolutionary force in history. It becomes a revolutionary force by trying not to. Society is usually a pyramid of authority with one man at the top. The community, united in the understanding of the word of God, is a foursquare community, where everybody is free and equal by their faith. Therefore, every structure of society has to come to terms with this indigestible cube in the middle of it, and eventually has to adapt to it. The gospel begins by dividing spiritual and temporal authority: Jesus says, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. The trouble is that there comes a point at which Caesar demands what is due only to God, that is, divine worship. As soon as that happens, the foursquare community becomes a revolutionary force.

It might not be theoretically true that a counter-revolution is impossible in a new Creation. But when Adam was made a part of the Creation, he was hitched on to an infinite power. He had the free will to break away from that, and consequently, it is the redemption out of bondage that has to be the antitype of creation. It is that because the Creation included a falling away from creation, and in the new Creation, one is again hitched back on to the eternal, infinite power that began it. It would depend of course on the role that you ascribe to time: if ordinary historical time continues to be the central fact of our experience, there is still the possibility of the falling away again. In fact, we see it happening constantly. But the whole Christian scheme as expounded by Milton and everybody else has a considerable dislike of the closing of the circle which one finds in Oriental religions with the conception of reincarnation. In the Christian Odyssey, the one idea is to get back home like Ulysses; but like a baseball player, you have to go around the circle to get there, and when you get home, it isn't quite the same place it was when you left it. And so there is a kind of gap, a kind of spark between the Creation at the beginning and the new Creation at the end. If you close the gap, and make it a completed circle, then you have the Hindu conception of reincarnation as repeating itself at different times through history.

I think that probably every cycle is just a failed spiral, and that history and nature collapse into cycles because they are too lazy to start again at another level. Yet there is the level by which one starts at Genesis and ends in Revelation, and that is followed by what happens in the reader's mind after he does that, which is an experience at a different level, and so on up. But that's something the Bible feels it's not its business to expound.