Thursday, December 29, 2005

St. John Apostle and Evangelist: December 27, 2005

Knowing "The Word:" LIGHT

St. John : Unique in the Experience and Consciousness of Christ:

The interpersonal experience between St. John and Jesus Christ was unique among the apostles and evangelists. If the apostles were mediators (priests) between the people and Christ, John was the mediator between the apostles and Christ. He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John Henry Newman preached, “He was one of the three or four who always attended our Blessed Lord, and had the privilege of the most intimate intercourse with Him; and, more favoured than Peter, James, and Andrew, he was His bosom friend, as we commonly express ourselves. At the solemn supper before Christ suffered, he took his place next to Him, and leaned on His breast. As the other three communicated between the multitude and Christ, so St. John communicated between Christ and them. At that Last Supper, Peter dared not ask Jesus a question himself, but bade John put it to Him, - who it was that should betray Him. Thus St. John was the private and intimate friend of Christ. Again, it was to St. John that our Lord committed His Mother, when He was dying on the cross; it was to St. John that He revealed in vision after His departure the fortunes of His Church”[1] (the Apocalypse).

John does not write about Christ in an external way. He does not simply report facts and quotations. He writes in Christ from his experience of Christ from within. As his knowledge of Christ is privileged, his language is uniquely symbolic: “God is light” (1 Jn. 1, 5). And the epistemology is embedded in his words: “The Message which we have heard from him and announce to you, is this: that God is light, and in him is no darkness. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he also is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (1 Jn. 1, 5-7).

Self-Gift as the Experience of Christ

John gives the anthropological dynamic that grounds the epistemology of knowing God: “practicing the truth” – as in St. Paul’s “facientes veritatem in charitate” (Eph. 4, 15). Augustine says: "It was not enough for God to make his son our guide to the way; he made him the way itself, that you might travel with him as leader, and by him as the way" (In ps. 109, 1-3). But Christ is the Truth, and Christ is self-gift to the others. At the institution of the Eucharist, He exteriorizes the nature of the truth of the person by washing the feet of the apostles. John PaulII remarked, “Significantly, in their account of the last Supper, the Synoptics recount the institution of the Eucharist, while the Gospel of John relates, as a way of bringing out its profound meaning, the account of the `washing of the feet,’ in which Jesus appears as the teacher of communion and of service (cf. Jn. 13, 1-20).”[2] The knowing of Christ in the intimacy of his Person does not come through the senses but through the experience of giving self, as in the obedience of faith. John had recorded Christ’s words: “If you abide in my word, you shall be my disciple indeed; you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8, 32). The experience and consciousness of knowing the truth of Christ as the “meaning” of the human person[3], comes as a result of the moral dynamic of self-giving that takes place first in obedience, and then in service to the others.

St. John: Uniquely Affirmed by Christ So As To Be Enabled to Make the Gift

- John stayed with Christ “that day. It was about the tenth hour” (Jn. 1, 39).

- He was brought in with Peter and James to heal the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue: “He allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James, and John the brother of James.” (Mk. 5, 37).

- And again: “As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, `Tell us, when are these things to happen, and what will be the sign when all these things will begin to come to pass?'” (Mk. 13, 3-4).

- At the Transfiguration: “He took Peter, James and John and went up the mountain to pray” (Lk. 9, 28).

- They entered a Samaritan town, “and they did not receive him because his face was set for Jerusalem. But when his disciples James and John saw this, they said `Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them…” (Lk. 9, 54-55).

- “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him, saying, `Master, we want thee to do for us whatever we ask…’” (Mk 10, 35).

- Gethsemani: "And he took with him Peter and James and John….”

- The Post Resurrection Miraculous Catch: “The disciple whom Jesus loved [John] said therefore to Peter, `It is the Lord’” (Jn. 20, 6).

Experience of Christ is Consciousness and Knowledge of Christ

It is John who discloses Christ’s revealing the connection between knowledge, faith as obedience and eternal life: Observe this extraordinary affirmation: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn. 17, 3). Therefore, to reach eternal life, one must know Christ because “no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27). But, to know the Son, one must actually live the faith by the act of prayer (which is self-gift) in order to be able to pronounce the supreme truth of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). And the connection, once again, John gives in 8, 32: “If you abide in my word [i.e., obey my commandment in deed], you are my disciple indeed [you will be ipse Christus]; you will know the truth [I am the Truth {Jn. 14, 6}] and the truth will make you free [you will be free from death: eternal life]. And, since to see the Son and re-cognize Him is to see the Father (“Philip, he who sees me, sees also the Father” Jn. 14, 9), such a one will have eternal life. Hence, wherever there is the act of self-giving, and therefore the experience of the “I” as relational and transcendent, there is a consciousness of living out the imaging of the divine Persons who are nothing but relation, self-giving and self-transcendence. One experiences being divinized as another Christ. And since like is known by like (i.e., knowing is a way of overcoming the irreducible pluralism of being, by experiencing becoming the other via doing what the other does, or, if that is impossible, to take in a sign or likeness of the other into self as proxy [mediation], hence: concepts), if one does what the other does (prayer is the proper act of imaging the Son as relation to the Father), one experiences what the other experiences, and therefore has the self-consciousness that the other has. This is the theological epistemology that Ratzinger proposes as the undergirding of Mt. 16, 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He said, as recorded below on a previous date: “Thesis 3: Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him. Let us begin here with a very general matter of epistemology. By nature, knowledge depends on a certain similarity between the knower and the known. The old axiom is that like is known by like. In matters of the mind and where persons are concerned, this means that knowledge calls for a certain degree of empathy, by which we enter, so to speak, into the person or intellectual reality concerned, become one with him or it, and thus become able to understand (intellegere = ab intus legere).”[4]

John establishes this absolute connection between loving and knowing. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. And everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God; for God is love” (1Jn. 4, 7-9). He repeats: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4, 16).

This experience of becoming another Christ is the absolute ground for the experience of fellowship with others since the likeness is the personhood that is achieved by mimicking the prototype of human personhood, Jesus Christ. That is, the more Christ we become (by the experience of self-giving), the closer we are to one another on the basis of sheer personhood. Christogenesis is the basis of a true and integral humanism. The more Christic persons are the more human and secular will be the society. Thus St. John says, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as t he also is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (1Jn. 1, 5-7). And further: “And by this we can be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says that he knows him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But he who keeps his word, in him the love of God is truly perfected; and by this we know that we are in him. He who says that he abides in him ought himself also to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn 2, 3-6). “He who says that he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and for him there is no stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and he does not know whither he goes because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn. 2, 9-11).

The New Epistemology: “The Word Became Flesh” (Spirit and Matter are One Single Person: Dualism is Overcome)

The Church struggled to reconcile the conceptual philosophy of Greece with Revelation. For example: “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10, 30) with “The Father is greater than I” (Jn. 15, 29). How can the Son be equal to the Father, yet be less than the Father? The Council of Nicea (325) struggled with the distinction of Persons but radical equality as God, and affirmed that the two were “of the same substance.” However, the problem then emerged whether the Son was really man? Did he have an intellectual soul, or was that replaced by the divine Person of the Logos? If he had a body, but not a human soul (and therefore a human intellect, and a human will), he would not be man, and the redemption of the whole man would not have taken place. The Council of Ephesus (431) answered, that indeed, Jesus Christ had a human soul with human intellect and human will. The Council of Chalcedon (451) then nailed down the entirety that Jesus Christ was a single divine Person with a divine nature and a complete human nature, perfect God and perfect man. Only a constitutively relational Being as divine Person could be totally equal to the Father as self-gift, less than the Father as engendered (totally receptive), and completely man as the "kenosis" (lowering) of assuming a concrete fallen human nature as His own.

The solution to this tension was the expansion of the notion of person, and therefore of being as relational – something which Greek abstractive and conceptual thought never envisaged nor possibly could have done so. Christianity proved explosive of Greek metaphysical categories, an explosion that only now are we coming to formulate as "relation... discovered as an equally valid promoridal mode of reality" (J. Ratzinger, "Introduction to Christianity," Ignatius (1990) 132). Only faith as response to Revelation could call a man to totally self-transcend to martyrdom (Martyrdom as denouement of faith: Veritatis Splendor #89-90). Hence, there could be no such experience of person in pagan thought. If, in Christian thought, being is constitutively relational such that the Father is the very act of engendering the Son, and vice versa for the Son, then one could be equal but not the same. The Son’s obedience and glorification of the Father would be equal to the Father’s self-gift of engendering the Son. The Son as engendered would be “less” than the Father (“The Father is greater than I” [Jn. 15, 29]), but equal to the Father as self-gift.

The conceptualism of abstractive thought does not permit of any penetration here and results in Gnostic Arianism (Judaizing of Christianity) where Christ as Son is engendered by the Father, is “less” than the Father, and therefore cannot be equally God with the Father. The DeVinci Code is a modern dramatization of this. St. John’s Gospel swings the full metaphysical weight of “Logos, flesh, step into the world; the eternal origin, the tangible earthly reality, mystery of unity”[5] that exploded the intra-mundane conceptualism of Greek thought and gave the world a new dimension of being.

Incarnation: The Word Was Made Flesh (Contradiction to Gnosticism): Explosion to Thought

Romano Guardini: “Of all the apostles, who stresses most the corporal reality of the Resurrected Christ? He who most stressed the divinity of Jesus, John. He who proclaimed Christ as the Logos, the eternal Son, also traced the living features of his resurrected body.”[6]

“I write of what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have handles: of the Word of Life. And the Life was made known and we have seen and now testify and announce to you, the Life Eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared to us. What we have seen and have heard we announce to you, in order that you also may have fellowship with us, and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (I Jn. 1, 13).

Guardini is referring to the resurrected body of the The Lord. He says: “Again and again it is stressed: Here is something far out of the ordinary. The Lord is transformed. His life is different from what it was, his existence incomprehensible. It has a new power that comes straight from the divine, to which it constantly returns for replenishment. Yet it is corporal; the whole Jesus is contained in it, his essence and his character. More: his earthly life, passion and death are incorporated into it, as the wounds show. Nothing is sloughed off; nothing life behind as unessential. Everything is tangible, though transformed, reality; that reality of which we were given a premonition on the last journey to Jerusalem – the mysterious lightning-like flash of the Transfiguration. This was no mere subjective experience of the disciples, but an independent reality; no `pure’ spirituality, but the saturation, transformation by the Holy Spirit of Christ’s whole life, body included. Indeed, only in the transformed existence, does the body fully come into its own. For the human body is different from the animal’s and is only then fulfilled when it no longer can be confused with the animal body. The Resurrection and Transfiguration are necessary to the full understanding of what the human body really is.”[7]

What is Gnosticism? Basically, it is conceptual thought abstracted from sensible experience. It is “objectified,” categorical thinking disengaged from existential experience of the self. It was the root and branch of Arianism in the third century and Nestorianism in the fourth and fifth, which denied the equality of the Son with the Father as God, as well as the equality of the Son with man, and it is the root and branch of modern dualism from Descartes to the momentous work of Wojtyla who united consciousness with the experience of the “I.” Gnosticism is an abstractionism that de-existentializes reality into monadic individualities, substances that exist in self and not other: Father-son, God-man, thought/spirit-matter, grace-nature, Church-state…

Guardini expatiates on Gnosticism as: “the pagan and half-Christian spiritualism [that was] convinced that God was spirit. However their [the Gnostics] conviction was so narrow and distorted, that they concluded that he was therefore anti-corporal, and that in his eyes all matter was impure. Consequently, they could not accept the Incarnation; insisting instead that a divine being, the eternal Logos, had descended from heaven and made his dwelling in the man Jesus. Through his mouth we were taught the truth and shown the way from the fleshly to the spiritual. When the man Jesus died, the Logos left him returned to heaven. To this St. John says: God became man and remains man in all eternity.

“To the question: What have we to do with the spiritualism of Gnostics? – the answer is: A great deal! Modernity is often completely confused by `spiritualism’… (I)t is constantly trying to explain away the Resurrection as deception; Jesus’ divinity as mere religious experience; the figure of the resurrected Christ as the product of communal piety, on order to separate `the real’ Jesus from the Christ of faith. Whether expressed historically or psychologically, as it is today, or mythologically, as it was at the time of the Gnostics, the argument remains the same. In reply, John erected two monumental landmarks. The first in the sentence: `And the Word was made flesh…’ (Jn. 1, 14). Not `entered into’ a human being, but became that being, so that he was simultaneously human and divine; his deed God’s deed; his fate God’s fate, resulting in an indivisible unity of existence, responsibility and dignity. Not merely `And the Word was made man’ – but, that there be no possible mistake, `…was made flesh’ – the clarity is almost unbearable.”[8]

To illustrate the Gnostic abstraction for a God who does not exist, Guardini asks: “Who is God? The Supreme Spirit, and so pure, that the angels by contrast are `flesh’! He is the Endless, Omnipotent, Eternal, All-inclusive One in the simplicity of his pure reality. The Unchanging One, living in himself, sufficient unto himself. What possible use could he have for a human body in heaven? The Incarnation is already incomprehensible enough; if we accept it as an act of unfathomable love, this and death, isn’t that sufficient? Why must we also believe that this piece of creation is assimilated into the eternity of God’s existence? What for? A bit of earthliness lost and caught up into the tremendousness of eternity? Why doesn’t the Logos shake the dust from him and return to the pure clarity of his free divinity?... Revelation defines such ideas as philosophy or worldly religion, to which Christian thought is by nature and definition diametrically opposed. But then what manner of God is this, with whom Resurrection, Ascension and throning on his right hand are possible?” Guardini answers: “Precisely the kind of God who makes such things possible! He is the God of the Resurrection, and we must learn that it is not the Resurrection that is irreconcilable to him, but part of our thinking that is irreconcilable to the Resurrection, for it is false.

“If we take Christ’s figure as our point of departure, trying to understand from there, we find ourselves faced with the choice between a completely new conception of God and our relation to him, and utter rejection of everything that surpasses the limitations of a `great man.’ … We must also completely reform our idea of humanity, if it is to fit the mould Christ ahs indicated. We can no longer say: man is as the world supposes him to be; therefore it is impossible that he throne at God’s right, but: since Revelation has revealed that the Son of Man does throne at God’s right, man must be other than the world supposes him. We must learn that God is not only `supreme Being,’ but supremely divine and human Being; we must realize that man is not only human, but that the tip of his essence reaches into the unknown, and receives its fulfillment in his Resurrection.”[9]

We could conclude this point on St. John with Guardini’s remark: “We must revise our whole conception of what redemption is. Rationalism is still deeply rooted in us, with its insistence on the spiritual alone in after-life… Now we begin to understand what sacrament means. Were we not also among those in Capharnaum who protested: `How can this man give us his flesh to eat’ (Jn. 6, 53)? Why these strange words about the flesh and blood of Christ – why not `the truth’ and `the love’ of Jesus? (…) Wouldn’t remembrance of the Lord in all the purity and dignity of the spirit suffice? Why not? Because not only the spirit of Christ, but his resurrected flesh and blood, his whole, transfigured humanity is redemption! Because through the Holy Eucharist we participate again and again in this transfigured reality at once human and divine.”[10]


“The prologue of John is certainly the key text that gives full expression to the truth about the divine sonship of Christ. He who `became flesh’ in time, is the Word himself from all eternity. He is the only-begotten Son – God `who is in the bosom of the Father.’ He is the Son `of the same substance of the Father,’ he is `God from God.’ He receives the fullness of glory from the Father. He is the Word `through whom everything was made.’ Therefore everything that exists owes to him that `beginning’ of which the book of Genesis speaks (cf. Gen. 1, 1), the beginning of the work of creation. This same eternal Son, when he comes into the world as the `Word become flesh,’ brings with him for humanity the fullness `of grace and truth.’ He brings the fullness of truth because he gives teaching about the true God whom `no one has ever seen.’ And he brings the fullness of grace, because he gives to those who receive him the power to be reborn of God.”[11]

[1] John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons #5.
[2] John Paul II, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,”
[3] Gaudium et Spes #22: “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man, truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”
[4] Josef Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” (1986) 25.
[5] Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery (1954) 4.
[6] Ibid. 411.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery (1954) 411-412.
[9] Ibid. 412-413.
[10] Ibid. 414.
[11] John Paul II, “The Prologue of John’s Gospel Synthesizes the Faith of the Apostolic Church, A Catechesis on the Creed: Jesus, Son and Savior, Vol. II, DSP(1996) 161.

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