Monday, December 26, 2005

St. Stephen, Martyr: December 26, 2005

An insight into St. Stephen’s martyrdom can come from Benedict XVI’s words for this Christmas 2005.

1) First, he explains that “God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Reading the word “solitude,” one cannot help but remember then- Josef Ratzinger’s words: “In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the `accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the `individual.’ Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: `In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended. Relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view.”[1] One cannot forget either the explanation of John Paul II gives to the so-called “original solitude” in the “Theology of the Body:” “Solitude also signifies man’s subjectivity, which is constituted through self knowledge. Man is alone because he is `different’ from the visible world, from the world of living beings.”[2]

In a word, God is not an individual Substance in the philosophic sense of substance being that which is in itself and not in another. That understanding is taken by abstraction from the sensible created world. It cannot be applied to God except abstractly. In the divine Revelation which is the existential real world, we see that God is the prototypical Communio of three “irreducible” Persons (three “I’s” that are not conflatible into the universal “Person” [and therefore the abstract “God” {that does not exist}]) who are so given to each other that none is alone as an “individual.” The divine “I’s” that are radically different are constitutively relational, and therefore there cannot be one without the other. The Father is the very act of engendering the Son. Hence, if there were no Son, there would be no Father. And vice versa, if there were no Father, there would be no Son. Hence, Benedict XVI’s “God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving.” That “circle” is the Communio, and is the prototype of every other relation of persons.

2) Since self-gift is, as it were, God’s “hard wiring,” God reveals more of himself in giving self as mercy than in the creation of the world itself. That is, there is more “power” involved and disclosed in “having mercy” than simply in “making-be.” Therefore, the human person, as image and likeness of this self-giving, shows more of what he/she is in forgiving, affirming, serving other persons (and then disappearing), than in great feats of inventive creation where the self remains within the itself. To this effect, Benedict said yesterday at Midnight Mass:

“God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendor and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas.”

Therefore, if we really wish to become great, we must lower self – freely – to affirm others, think about others, forgive others and thus “radiate fatherhood.” Hence, the first blush of God’s “kenosis” (self-lowering) in becoming a child in a stable is the martyrdom of St. Stephen as the only adequate response of faith to Revelation.

The insight would be that the Church places the martyrdom of St. Stephen – his self-gift to death – as the like response to the radical self-gift of Father to us in the Son. Self-gift for self-gift. Behold the power of martyrdom to engender life. (Cardinal Ratzinger explained the canonization of St. Nicholas of Bari [Myra] as among the first of the non-martyred saints to be canonized precisely because he showed "constant kindness in every day life" - See December 6 below for Ratzinger's development on St. Nicholas as a manifestation of Christ's self-gift as persistent kindness in ordinary life).

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[1] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 132.
[2] John Paul II, “The Theology of the Body,” DSP (1997) [General Audience of October 10, 1979] 37.

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