Sunday, December 31, 2006

January 1, 2007: Feast of the Divine Maternity

Begin Again – From Christ!

God “Failed” – Starts New Humanity


“God `failed’ in Adam – and likewise, to all appearances, throughout history. But God did not fail, for now he becomes a man himself and so begins a new humanity.”[1] Romano Guardini put it this way: “Christ’s effect upon the world can be compared with nothing in its history save its own creation: `In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.’ What takes place in Christ is of the same order as the original act of creation, though on a still higher level. For the beginning of the new creation is as far superior to the love which created the stars, plants, animals and men. That is what the words mean: `I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?’ (Luke 12, 49). It is the fire of new becoming; not only `truth’ or `love,’ but the incandescence of new creation.”[2]

Mary’s Free “Yes”

Josef Ratzinger wrote: “God asks for man’s Yes. He does not simply employ his power to command. In creating man, God has created a free vis-à-vis, and he now needs the freedom of this creature for the realization of his kingdom, which is founded, not on external power, but on freedom. In one of his homilies, Barnard of Clairvaux has dramatically portrayed both God’s waiting and the waiting of humanity:

“The angel awaits your answer, for it is time to return to the one who sent him… O Lady, give the answer that earth, that hell that heaven itself awaits. The King and Lord of all now yearns for your consenting answer as much as he once desired your beauty… Why are you hesitating? Why are you fearful? ... Look, the desire of the nations stands at the door and knocks. Oh, what if he should pass by while you hesitate?... Get up, make haste, open!... Get up by faith, make haste by devotion… open by consent!”

Without this free consent on Mary’s part, God cannot become man. To be sure, Mary’s Yes is wholly grace. The dogma of Mary’s freedom from original sin is at bottom meant solely to show that it is not a human being who sets the redemption in motion by her own power; rather, her Yes is contained wholly within the primacy and priority of divine love, which already embraces her before she is born. `All is grace.’ Yet grace does not cancel freedom: it creates it. The entire mystery of redemption is present in this narrative and becomes concentrated in the figure of the Virgin Mary: `Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’
(Lk. 1, 38).”[3]

Then, “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us”

The Novelty:

Ratzinger says: “The Logos becomes flesh: we have grown so accustomed to these words that God’s colossal synthesis of seemingly unbridgeable divisions, which required a gradual intellectual penetration on the part of the Fathers, no longer strikes us as very astonishing. Here lay, and sill lies, the specifically Christian novelty that appeared unreasonable and unthinkable to the Greek mind. What this passage says does not derive from a particular culture, such as the Semitic or the Greek, as is thoughtlessly asserted over and over again today. This statement is opposed to all the forms of culture known to us. It was just as unthinkable for the Jews as it was (although for altogether different reasons) for the Greeks or the Indians or even, for that matter, for the modern mind, which looks upon a synthesis of the phenomenal and the noumenal world as completely unreal and contests it with all the self-awareness of modern rationality. What is said here is `new’ because it comes from God and could be brought about only by God himself. It is something altogether new and foreign to every history and to all cultures; we can enter into it in faith and only in faith, and when we do so, it opens up to us wholly new horizons of thought and life.”[4]


How is it that God Who is the Cause of all things as Creator, has a mother whom He created? Did she not give Him merely a body, and if that is the case, how can it be said that she is “Mother of God.?”

Mary gives the material, the DNA, that must be organized by a human soul that is created directly by God. No mother gives the soul, nor the person, and in the case of Christ, a fortiori, the divine Person. Thanks to the tension of Christian faith and Greek philosophy, the Fathers of the Church (St. Cyril and the Council of Ephesus in 431) distinguished between person and nature precisely here on this issue. Jesus Christ has a truly complete and integral human nature of body and soul that is distinct from His divine Person as Word and Son of the Father.

However, that human nature of created soul and body - the latter being directly taken from our Lady such that Christ is completely one of us as bodily man -, is the human nature of a divine Person. Therefore, the body is His. The divine Logos assumes and “compenetrates” that body as His own. It is His. The body of Christ is not an object or “thing’ somehow attached to the Person, but the enfleshment of the divine Person Himself, without ceasing to be human and free. In fact, by the “compenetration” of the body by the divinity, it becomes truly and integrally human and free, with the freedom of the self-gift; and this because the first man, Adam, is a type of the prototype: Jesus Christ. This is revealed in St. Paul: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight in love. He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1, 4-5).

Therefore, the body of Christ, although engendered by a creature, is the body of the divine Person, and therefore the body of God, and Mary as the source of the material of that body is related to – as every mother to her offspring – it as Mother of the Person of Christ, the Mother of God: Theotokos.


To repeat a word from Josef Ratzinger on the relation of the human and the divine in Christ: “In the manuals, the theological development after Chalcedon has ordinarily come to be little considered. The impression thus frequently remains that dogmatic Christology finishes up with a certain parallelism between the two natures of Christ. This impression has also been the cause leading to the divisions since Chalcedon. But in effect the declaration of the true humanity and the true divinity of Christ can retain its significance only when there is clarification also of the mode of unity of the two natures, which the Council of Chalcedon has defined by the formula of the `one person’ of Christ, at that time not yet fully examined. In fact only that unity of divinity and humanity which in Christ is not parallelism, where on stands alongside the other, but real compenetration - compenetration between God and man – means salvation for humankind.”

Further on he says: “The Council (of Constantinople III [680-681]) explains this union by saying of the Lord given in the Gospel of John: `I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). Here the divine Logos is speaking, and speaking of the human will of Jesus in the mode by which he calls his will the will of the Logos. With this exegesis of John 6, 38, the Council proves the unity of the subject: in Jesus there are not two `I,’ but only one. The Logos speaks of the will and human thought of Jesus using the `I;’ this has become his `I,’ has been assumed into his `I,’ because the human will has become fully one with the will of the Logos, and with it has become pure assent to the will of the Father.”

St. Athanasius

“He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of `what will be born in you’ to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of `what will be born from you,’ so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.”

The full humanity being affirmed, Athanasius nevertheless reaffirms the divinity of the one divine Person: “Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is for ever perfect. In the Trinity we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.”

Pius XI and the Dogma of Mary’s Divine Motherhood

“Truly, since the Son of the Virgin Mary is God, she who bore him should rightly and deservedly be called Mother of God. Since the person of Jesus Christ is one and divine, surely Mary is to be called by all not only Mother of Christ the Man, but `Deipara,’ or `Theotokos,’ that is, Mother of God… Moreover, no one can reject this truth, handed down from the first ages of the Church, by saying that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave Jesus Christ a body, but did no engender the Word of the heavenly Father. Fopr St. Cyril in his day rightly and clearly answers that just as any other woman in whose womb a body, though not the soul, is engendered, is rightly called a mother, so Mary, by reason of the single person of her Son, is truly the Mother of God.”

[1] November 7, 2006 Papal Homily to Swiss Bishops (published Vatican City, Dec. 10, 2006).
[2] Romano Guafdini, “The Lord,” Regnery (1954) 306.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Mary, The Church at the Source,” Ignatius (2005) 89-90.
[4] Ibid. 90.

[1] Athanasius, Epistle “Ad Epictetum,” 5-9; PG 26, 1058, 1062-1066.
[2] Pius XI, Encyclical Lux Veritatis, 25 December 1931.

Feast of the Holy Family 2006

The supreme point to keep in mind is that “the concept of `person’…has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man.”[1] And the meaning of person has been taken from the Biblical revelation of God as “relation,” and man to be made in the image of this relation.

Ratzinger observed: “The God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship.” Under this title, he developed the following: “We observed that, in the ancient world, man could orient himself to God through knowledge and love but that any notion of a relationship between the eternal God and temporal man was regarded as absurd and hence impossible. The philosophical monotheism of the ancient world opened up a path for biblical faith in God and its religious monotheism, which seemed to facilitate once again the lost harmony between reason and religion. The Fathers, who started from the assumption of this harmony between philosophy and biblical revelation, realized that the one God of the Bible could be affirmed, in his identity, through two predicates: creation and revelation, creation and redemption. But these are both relational terms. Thus the God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship: and to that extent, in the essence of his identity, he is opposed to the self-enclosed God of philosophy [consider Aristotle’s “First Unmoved Mover” or Plato’s “One"

As mentioned in the recent blog, the meaning of “relation” here is not an accident inhering in a substance, but a unique created subsistent relation even in man. By this, Christianity has revealed a new dimension of Being that is “the very center of philosophical thought.” I repeat Ratzinger’s bold affirmation that he had already proposed in previous works: “Introduction to Christianity” Ignatius [1990] 130-132; “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 [Fall, 1990] 439-454. Here in 1999, he says: “The meaning of an already existing category, that of `relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relation moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence.” [2]

The Family: Relational Incubator of the Human Person
(title mine)

Josef Ratzinger

In the letter which St. Ignatius of Antioch – on his way to martyrdom in Rome – writes to the Christians of Ephesus, there is a phrase, difficult to translate, of great density, which powerfully calls the attention of the reader. I refer to that which appears in chapter 16 of the letter: “My brothers, do not deceive yourselves: Whoever perverts the home will not inherit the Kingdom of God (verse 1). Who are these persons, those who `pervert home’? In what does this action consist that is incompatible with the Kingdom of God, that is, with the goal of all human existence and of the whole history of man? To understand the phrase more deeply, it is necessary to keep in mind that in Greek – in a form that is very similar to the which occurs in Semitic languages – the word `home’ in its first sense does not mean the building of stone, but the family community understood in its widest sense – the grandparents, the parents, the sons, the servants-; life in common is what builds houses of stone or wood. The term `home,’ in its fundamental meaning, alludes, therefore, to something alive, to that original form of community between men which results from ties of descent, or of blood, and that by nature develop necessarily to form the space of fidelity, of living with and for the others, the space in which life is transmitted, learned and protected, not only in the biological sense, but in all its dimensions. Well, since the sources of life, of `being a person,’ are tied to mystery and since its conservation and adequate development need great protection, the home – understood in this way – is under the protection of the power of the holy: it has a sacred character. Therefore, whoever damages the vital world of the home, has raised his hand at the same time against the holy: this has been the common conviction of all the great and old cultures.

“After these considerations, we can return to the letter of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians. The received Latin version reproduces in a very adequate way – if what we have set forth above is correct – the idea of the martyr bishop: it translates the phrase in question by `familiarum perturbatores,’ that is: those who confuse and destroy families. The passage of Saint Ignatius, besides, is supported by a quotation of Saint Paul which points in the same direction, and which the Bishop of Antioch simplifies and makes exact at the same time. Saint Paul had written: `Don't deceive yourselves: neither the fornicators, nor the idolaters, nor the effeminate, nor the sodomites… will inherit the Kingdom of God' (1 Cor. 6, 9 s.). St. Ignatius, instead of this variety of sins that St. Paul mentions, refers to the good that is threatened which must be protected: the home, this protecting space that is the source of `being a person,’ the home which must be protected as a holy place. In this way, the original human way of knowing passes over in an immediate way into Christian faith. However perverts the home, whoever is the cause of the home being lost is destroying the conditions for God to live and reign in the world. On the one hand, man can only live and communicate in peace when he is under the protection of the holy; and on the other, God only can find a `place to live’ among men there where they have become a “home,” where – in other words – the ties and blood relations have converted in an ordered life-with-others where man learns that to live is `to be in relation’ by opening himself thus to the fundamental relation of his life, or obedience to God. When Ignatius of Antioch sums up and classifies the different sins enumerated by St. Paul, he calls them `perdition and destruction of the family,’ and thus puts in relief that `to destroy’ the family is to go against the Kingdom of God. In doing this, he is, perhaps, the first in expressing with all clarity the eminently theological character of the family. At the same time, it becomes evident that all the forms of desintegration of the life of men cited by St. Paul come from the perversion of the fundamental relations which mean `home.’ All these sins have their source in the `isolation,’ in the ignorance or the negation of `habitating’ and of `building,’ in the dissolution of that multiform structure of relations on which rest the health – in the most profound sense of the term – of the human condition.

“All of these ideas acquire a poignant meaning today before the tremendous rupture with the tradition that postmodernity has introduced and continues to introduce in its extreme radicality. It’s enough to consider that there exist great modern cities in which more than half of their inhabitants are `singles,’ persons who would see establishing a permanent tie or relation as a limitation of their freedom, and who, therefore, are not disposed to commit themselves and leave their `isolation.’ This dissolution of the `home’ is reflected also exteriorly in the construction of houses in the service of the individualism of a fragmented human life, according to which the function of the living quarters consists in `protecting’ the lack of relations. In this context, the family appears as a form of slavery; paternity and maternity, as an insult. There is no place for the vision of paternity and maternity understood as service to life, which is, by nature, to make space for a new existence that is a free autonomy. Nor is it possible to see that filiation is to accept being in the sense of `dependency’ and, therefore accepting `being a person’ in all of its open character. And together with this disintegration of `being a person,’ the conditions for knowing God and to give an account of his existence are undermined. More than 40 years ago, Romano Guardini wrote some words full of sense: `The phrase… “He who sees me, sees the Father” (Jn. 14, 9), have also an inverse meaning: “He who does not see the Father, fails to see me also.” We are not trying to accuse concrete persons who suffer `isolation,’ but rather to recall the phrase of Saint Ignatius whereby anyone despising and dissolving the family - and in this way dragging person into `isolation’ - are closing the door on the Kingdom of God and on that form of human life in which `living-together’ with God is the foundation of peace and fullness of the world.

“Before these tendencies, an urgent task of the Church consists in being the protector of the family, safeguarding that original evidential character, taken up and deepened by Christianity, the knowledge that the sanctity of the `home’ means defending thus the dignity and the truth of `being person'"
[3] (from the Spanish translation of the German original).

The Home: Unique Space of Salvation

In the Bible, salvation does not take place in the Temple or synagogue. It takes place in the home. The avenging angel in his mission to destroy the first born of man and animal “passed over” the homes of those who had the blood of the paschal lamb sprinkled over the doorposts of their homes.

“Israel’s Passover was and is a family celebration. It is celebrated in the home, not in the Temple. In the history of the foundation of the People of Israel, in Exodus (12, 1-14), it is the home which is the locus of salvation and refuge in that night of darkness in which the Angel of Death walked abroad. For Egypt, in contrast, that night spelled the power of death, of destruction, of chaos, things that continually rise up from the deep places of the world and of man, threatening to wreck the good creation and reduce the world to an uninhabitable wilderness. In this situation it is the home, the family, which provides protection; in other words, the world always needs to be defended against chaos, creation always needs shielding and recreating. In the calendar of the nomads from whom Israel adopted the Passover festival, Passover was New Year’s Day, i.e., the day on which the creation was refounded, when it had to be defended once again against the inroads of the void. The home, the family, is life’s protective rampart, the place of security, of
of that peace and togetherness which lives and lets live, which holds the world together.

“In the time of Jesus, too, Passover was celebrated in the homes and in families, following the slaughter of the lambs in the Temple. A regulation forbade anyone to leave the city of Jerusalem in the night of the Passover. The entire city was felt to be the locus of salvation over against the chaotic night, its walls the rampart protecting the creation. Israel had to make a pilgrimage, as it were, to the city every year at Passover in order to return to its origins, to be recreated and to experience once again its rescue, liberation and foundation. A very deep insight lies behind this. In the course of a year, a people is always in danger of disintegrating, not only through external causes, but also interiorly, and of losing hold of the inner motivation which sustains it. It needs to return to its fundamental origin. Passover was intended to be this annual event in which Israel returned from the threatening chaos (which lurks in every people) to its sustaining origin; it was meant to be the renewed defense and recreation of Israel in the basis of its origin. And since Israel knew that the star of its election stood in the heavens, it also knew that its fortunes, for good or ill, had consequences of the whole world; it knew that the destiny of the earth and of creation was involved in its response, whether it failed or passed the test.

“Jesus too celebrated the Passover according to these prescriptions, at home with his family; that is to say, with the Apostles, who had become his new family. In doing so he was observing a current rule which permitted pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem to form companies, the so-called habhuroth, who would constitute a family, a Passover unity, for thyis night. That is how Passover became a Christian feast. We are Christ’s habhura, his family, formed of his pilgrim company, of the friends who accompany him along the path of the gospel through the terrain of history. Companions of his pilgrimage, we constitute Christ’s house; thus, the Church is the new family, the new city, and for us she signifies all that Jerusalem was – that living home which banishes the powers of chaos and makes an area of peace, which upholds both creation and us. The Church is the new city by being the family of Jesus, the living Jerusalem, and her faith is the rampart and wall against the chaotic powers that threaten to bring destruction upon the world. Her ramparts are strengthened by the blood of the true Lamb, Jesus Christ, that is, by love which goes to the very end and which is endless. It is this love which is the true counterforce to chaos: it is the creative power which continually establishes the world afresh, providing new foundations for peoples and families, thus giving us `shalom,’ the realm of peace in which we can live with, for and unto one another. There are many reasons, I believe, why we should take a new look at these factors at this time and allow ourselves to respond to them. For today we are quite tangibly experiencing the power of chaos. We experience the primal, chaotic powers rising up from the very midst of a progressive society – which seems to know everything and be able to do anything – and attacking the very progress of which it is so proud. We see how, in the midst of prosperity, technological achievement and the scientific domination of the world, a nation can be destroyed from within, we see how the creation can be threatened by the chaotic powers which lurk in the depths of the human heart. We realize that neither money nor technology nor organizational ability alone can banish chaos. Only the real protective wall given to us by the Lord, the new family he has created for us, can do this. From this standpoint, it seems to me, this Passover celebration which has come down to us from the nomads, via Israel and through Christ, also has (in the deepest sense) an eminently political significance. We as a nation, we in Europe, need to return to our spiritual roots, lest we become lost in self-destruction.

“This feast needs to become a family celebration once again, for it is the family that is the real bastion of creation and humanity. Passover is a summons, urgently reminding us that the family is the loving home in which humanity is nurtured, which banishes chaos and futility, that the family can only be this sphere of humanity, this bastion of creation, if it is under the banner of th Lamb, if it is protected by the power of faith which comes from the love of Jesus Christ. The individual family cannot survive; it will disintegrate unless it is kept safe within the larger family which guarantees it and gives it security.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Many Religions – One Covenant,” Ignatius (1999) 76.
[2] Ibid.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Prologue” Enchiridion Familiae, Vol. Rialp, Madrid 1992. pp. CXV.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1986) 103-106.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Theological-Ontological Root of the Mind of Benedict XVI

Revelation Expands Being to Person Before Reason

Person Supplants Substance as Meaning of Being

The God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship

“We observed that, in the ancient world, man could orient himself to God through knowledge and love but that any notion of a relationship between the eternal God and temporal man was regarded as absurd and hence impossible. The philosophical monotheism of the ancient world opened up a path for biblical faith in God and its religious monotheism, which seemed to facilitate once again the lost harmony between reason and religion. The Fathers, who started from the assumption of this harmony between philosophy and biblical revelation, realized that the one God of the Bible could be affirmed, in his identity, through two predicates: creation and revelation, creation and redemption. But these are both relational terms. Thus the God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship; and to that extent, in the essence of his identity, he is opposed to the self-enclosed God of philosophy.

“This is not the place to trace the complicated intellectual struggle that sought to establish the interrelatedness of reason and religion. It had followed from the idea of God’s unique oneness, yet now it was practically called into question once again. In the context of the present topic, all I will say is that, as a result of this struggle, a new philosophical category –the concept of `person’ – was fashioned, a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very center of philosophical thought.

Covenant as God’s Self-Revelation, `the radiance of his countenance’

“The meaning of an already existing category, that of `relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relatio moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens.[2] When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence. In this context, covenant would be the response to man’s imaging of God; it would show us who we are and who God is. And for God, since he is entirely relationship, covenant would not be something external in history, apart from his being, but the manifestation of his self, the `radiance of his countenance.’”
[From "Many Religions - One Covenant," Ignatius (1999) 75-77]

[1] This is beautifully clear in C. Schonborn, “God’s Human Face: The Christ-Icon,” Ignatius (1994) 14-33.
[2] Even if the entire scope of the process is not yet clear, w can see the refashioning of the inherited categories in Augustine, De Trin. 5, 5, 6 (PL 42, 914): `Wherefore noting in Him is said in respect ot accident, since nothing is accidental to Him, and yet al that is said is not said according to substance… the [the Father and the Son] are so called, not according to substance, but according to relation, which relation, however, is not accident, because it is not changeable.’)

St. Stephen, Martyr: December 26, 2006

Truth then, and Truth Now

St. Stephen died for the truth of the faith. The content of that truth is the Person of Jesus Christ. The term “Christocentricity” “is intended to stress that at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, `the only Son from the Father… full of grace and truth,’ who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever. It is Jesus who is `the way, and the truth, and the life,’ and Christian living consists in following Christ, the sequela Christi [1]

The bishops of the United States in their annual meeting in November 14, 2006, after a delay of 38 years, spelled out the “sequela Christi” for human sexuality and the sin of contraception that had been authoritatively pronounced in Humanae Vitae in 1968. Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, remarked: “This is the first document in many years in which the U.S. bishops are collectively addressing a message on contraception directly to engaged and married couples,” adding that “this is our first word on the subject in a long time and not our last word.”

The document, “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” affirmed positively that “the mutual gift of fertility is an integral part of the bonding power of marital intercourse.” It went on to say: “When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however, sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more `casual.’” It went on to say, “Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple’s unity. The total giving of oneself, body and soul, to one’s beloved is not time to say: `I give you everything I am – except…’” The document goes on to its inexorable moral conclusion: “every act of intercourse must remain open to life and that contraception is objectively immoral.”

Coupling the teaching of “Married Love…” with another simultaneously released document “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper” that teaches that the state of grace is necessary for the worthy reception of Communion makes a strong case for the conclusion feared – and avoided by a large number of priests and laity – that if one is contracepting, one should not go to Communion.

The latter document, “Happy Are Those…,” states that “As Catholics we believe what the Church authoritatively teaches on matters of faith and morals, for to hear the voice of the Church, on matters of faith and morals, is to hear the voice of Christ himself. To give selective assent to the teachings of the Church not only deprives us of her life-giving message, but also seriously endangers our communion with her.” It goes on to say “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”

This conclusion comes as a “hard saying” to the American Catholic population who have not heard a word about this for the last 38 years and have inevitably drifted with the secularized culture into contraceptive practice and contraceptive mentality. It has been suggested that 90% of married couples in the child-bearing range are using contraceptives without having their consciences clarified and formed by the Magisterium of the Church. It has been argued that such a state of affairs leaves people in invincible ignorance, and therefore devoid of culpability. But what does it say for the bishops (who passed the document by an overwhelming margin and without floor debate) and their priests who, equally carrying the onus of the Good Shepherd to give their lives for their people, continue to be silent on the issue with the fear that they will leave and that it is too complicated to explain.

We – bishops, priests and laity - are clearly now in an area of ascetical and moral obligation to devise a strategy of doctrinal formation so that a people who are habitually in sin and receiving the Eucharist can be relieved of the progressive damage that is being done to them by ignorantly staying in a state of being deaf and dumb. Clearly, it is not otiose to connect the dots from contraception to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and harvesting embryos. Mother Teresa spoke with profound supernatural insight when she remarked at that prayer breakfast in Washington, February 1994 (and wonderfully described by Peggy Noonan), that she would not give a child for adoption to a couple who had used the contraceptive. I personally went to her afterward to inform that I was trying to help people confess and receive absolution for the sin of contraception, and ask her if, in that case, would she give the child for adoption? She answered: “But how could I give my child to someone who had done that to herself or himself?” I immediately realized that she was working on the deep ontological level of the person, and I was on a more superficial and almost legal level. She was suggesting that the very structure of the person was in play, and that is it had been corroded by this particular sin. It would take the rebuilding of the ontological hard-wiring of the person by repeated gifts of self.

Teach Jesus Christ At the Risk of Your Life

A young curate asked his pastor, many years his senior in the priesthood, what he was going to do about these documents on contraception and the obligation of the state of grace to receive. The pastor told him that he was not going to tell anyone not to go to Communion, and that it was up to the local bishop to mandate that it be preached. In either case, it is dead letter.

In this light, and on the occasion of St. Stephen as proto-martyr for the truth of Christ, it might be helpful to rehearse the mission of the ministerial priest in hierarchical communion with Jesus Christ through the bishop.

· Jesus Christ stands before the Church as Bridegroom before the Bride. The relationship is spousal which means the gift of one’s very self to death. “Christ stands `before’ the Church and `nourishes and cherishes her’ (Eph. 5, 29), giving his life for her. The priest is called to be the living image of Jesus Christ, the spouse of the Church… In his spiritual life, therefore, he [the priest] is called to live out Christ’s spousal love toward the Church, his bride.”[2]
· “The gift of self has not limits, marked as it is by the same apostolic and missionary zeal of Christ, the good shepherd…”[3]
· “The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God. He is consecrated and sent forth to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all, calling every person to the obedience of faith and leading believers to an ever increasing knowledge of and communion in the mystery of God, as revealed and communicated to us n Christ.”[4]
· “The priest ought to be the first `believer’ in the word, while being fully aware that the words of his ministry are not `his,’ but those of the One who sent him. He is not the master of the word, but its servant. He is not the sole possessor of the word; in its regard he is in debt to the People of God. Precisely because he can and does evangelize, the priest… ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized. He proclaims the word in his capacity as `minister,’ as a sharer in the prophetic authority of Christ and the Church. As a result, in order that he himself may possess and give to the faithful the guarantee that he is transmitting the Gospel in its fullness, the priest is called to develop a special sensitivity, love and docility to the living tradition of the Church and to her magisterium. These are not foreign to the word, but serve its proper interpretation and preserve its authentic meaning.”[5]

To Preach = To Give the Self to Death – like Stephen

Before the Vatican II’s “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests” of December 7, 1965, there were two opposing concepts of priestly ministry standing face to face. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “On one side, the social-functional view defines priesthood in terms of `service;’ a service performed for the community, through carrying out a function of the Church in its social dimension. On the other side, the sacramental-ontological view, without denying the aspect of service, sees priesthood as rooted in the minister’s being itself, and this being, in turn, as determined through a gift bestowed by the Lord through the Church, known as a sacrament.”[6]

Ratzinger continues: “What, then, are the answers to the problems we have described? To put it briefly, the Council teaching cannot be reduced to either one of the alternatives.” He insightfully sets up the terms of the question: 1) “we can state that the first chapter of the decree (Nos. 2 and 3) heavily underlines the ontological aspect of priestly existence, and thereby emphasizes the power to offer sacrifice. Both elements are again stressed at the beginning of no. 3: `Priests, taken from among the people, and ordained on their behalf in the things that pertain to God for the purpose of offering up gifts and sacrifices for sins (cf. Heb. 5, 1), live with them as with their brothers.’ In contrast with the Council of Trent, there is a new emphasis on the lived unity and common path of the whole Church, into which the traditional conception of the priesthood has been inserted.

“All the more, then, is our attention drawn to the beginning of the second chapter, where the concrete duties of the priest are described: `It is the first task of priests, as co-0workers of the bishops, to preach the Gospel of God to all’ (no. 4). This seems to affirm clearly the primacy of the word, or the ministry of preaching. The question then arises, what is the relationship between these two statements: a priest is ordained… for the purpose of offering up gifts and sacrifices;’ and his `first task (Primum… officium) is to `preach the Gospel (Evangelium… evangelizandi)’”?

Ratzinger’s Insight

Jesus does not “allow his evangelizing to be taken for a merely intellectual affair, a matter for discussion alone. His words demand decision; they bring reality. In this sense, his word is `incarnate:’ the mutual relation of word and sign expresses a `sacramental’ structure.
“But we must go a step further. Jesus does not convey a knowledge that is independent from his own person, as any teacher or storyteller would do. He is something different from, and more than, a Rabbi. As his preaching unfolds, it becomes ever clearer that his parables refer to himself, that the `Kingdom and person belong together, that the Kingdom comes n his person. The decision that he demands is a decision about how one stands toward him, as with Peter, who said, `You are the Christ’ (Mark 8, 29). Ultimately, the message of his preaching about the Kingdom of God turns out to be quite clearly Jesus’ own Paschal mystery, his destiny of death and resurrection… We now understand that Jesus’ preaching can be called `sacramental’ in a deeper sense than we could have seen before. His word contains in itself the reality of the Incarnation and the Church in the mutual dependence of preaching and the Eucharist, and in the mutual dependence, as well, of preaching and an authentic, living witness.”[8]

Ratzinger then offers an example of this in the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva. He said: “I would like to recall now an episode from the early days of Opus Dei, which illustrates the point. A young woman had the opportunity to listen for the first time to a talk given by Fr. Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. She was very curious to hear a famous preacher. But after participating in a Mass he celebrated, she no longer wanted to listen to a human orator. She recounted later that form that moment on, her only interest was to discover the word and will of God."

“The ministry of the word requires that the priest share in the kenosis of Christ, in his `increasing and decreasing.’ The fact that the priest does not speak about himself, but bears the message of another, certainly does not mean that he is not personally involved, but precisely the opposite: it is a giving-away-of-the-self in Christ that takes up the pain of his Easter mystery, and leads to a true finding-of-the-self, and communion with him who is the Word of God in person. This Paschal structure of the `not-self’ that turns out to be the `true self’ after all, shows, in the last analysis, that the ministry of the Word reaches beyond all `functions’ to penetrate the priest’s very being, and presupposes that the priesthood is a sacrament.”

Conclusion: Woe to us if we do not make this episcopal document known.

[1] John Paul II, “Catechesi Tradendae,” #5.
[2] John Paul II, “Pastores Dabo Vobis” #22.
[3] Ibid #23.
[4] Ibid #26.
[5] Ibid #26.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “The Ministry and Life of Priests” reprinted from the August-September 1997 issue of HPR.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Feast of St. John: Christ's Pre-Existence: Augustine's Remarks-cum-John Paul II

“NOW this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God. Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed. Christ therefore is himself the Word of life.
“And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels.
“Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part or us by which we could see the Word.

Ephesians 1, 4-6

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight in love. He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons, according to the purpose of his will… with which he has favored us in his beloved Son”
(Eph. 1, 4-6).

Predestination in Christ:

"4. (B)efore sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father. Through the grace of this election, man, male and female, was `holy and immaculate’ before God. … When we compare the testimony of the `beginning’ reported in the first chapters of Genesis with the testimony of Ephesians, we must deduce that the reality of the creation of man was already permeated by the perennial election of man in Christ: called to holiness through the grace of adoption as sons, `predestining us to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise and glory of his grace, which he has given to us in his beloved Son’ (Eph. 1, 5-6).

5. “From the `beginning,’ man, male female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift. This endowment was given in view of him, who from eternity was `beloved’ as Son, although – according to the dimensions of time and history – it preceded the Incarnation of this `beloved Son’ and also the `redemption’ we have in him `through his blood’ (Eph. 1, 7).

“Redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, despite sin. This supernatural endowment, which took place before original sin, that is, the grace of original justice and innocence – an endowment that was the fruit of man’s election in Christ before the ages – was brought about precisely out of regard for him, that one and only Beloved, while chronologically anticipating his coming in the body. In the dimensions of the mystery of creation, election to the dignity of adoptive sonship was proper only to the `first Adam,’ that is, to man created in the image and likeness of God as male and female.

Comment of Christopher West

“According to this mystery, God chose us in Christ not only after we sinned and in order to redeem us from sin. God chose us in Christ `before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1, 4). This means that `before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ (334).

“It seems that John Paul cannot stress this point enough. Comparing the testimony of the `beginning’ with the testimony of Ephesians, he says that `we must deduce that the reality of the creation of man was already permeated by the perennial election of man in Christ…“From the `beginning,’ man, male female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift.” And again he says that this supernatural endowment in Christ `took place before original sin’ (334-335). Rereading the account of creation in light of the New Testament, we realize that man’s destiny in Christ is already implied in his creation in the image of God. For it is Christ who `is the image of the invisible God.’ Thus, it is in Christ that we image God right from the beginning (see Col. 1, 15-16). West then refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #280 that reads: “Creation is the foundation of `all God’s plans,’ the `beginning of the history of salvation’ that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which `in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth:’ from the beginning, Gold envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ.”

Christopher West then advances the following: “With these statements, the Holy Father appears to be adding his input to a centuries-old theological debate: Would Christ have come had man not sinned? In any case, this pope’s opinion on the matter seems clear. For him, Jesus Christ – the incarnate Christ - `is the center of the universe and of history.’ For him, it seems even to entertain the idea of a universe without an incarnate Christ is to miss a central point of the `great mystery’ of God’s love for humanity.

“Christ is `the first-born of all creation’ (Col. 1, 15). Everything – especially man in his original unity as male and female – was created for him, through him, and in expectation of him. When we reread man’s beginning in view of the `great mystery’ of Ephesians, we can see that Christ’s incarnate communion with the Church is already anticipated and in some sense `contained’ in the original communion of man and woman. And this original unity in `one flesh’ was constituted by God before sin. Man and woman’s original unity, therefore, was a beatifying participation in grace. This grace made original man `holy and blameless’ before God. Here John Paul reminds us that their primordial (or original) holiness and purity were also expressed in their being naked without shame. The Holy Father then asserts that this original bounty was granted to man in view of Christ, who from eternity was `beloved’ as Son, even though – according to the dimensions of time and history – it had preceded the Incarnation’

Complementary Conclusion by Benedict XVI

Summary of Anselm’s Theory of Redemption: This is the received theology in the West:
“(B)y man’s sin, which was aimed against God, the order of justice was infinitely damaged and God infinitely offended. Behind this is the idea that the measure of the offence is determined by the status of the offended party; if I offend a beggar the consequences are not the same as they would be if I offended a head of state. The importance of the offence varies according to the addressee. Since God is infinite the offence to him implicit in humanity’s sin is also infinitely important. The right thus damaged must be restored, because God is a God of order and justice; indeed, he is justice itself. But the measure of the offence demands an infinite reparation, which man is capable of making. He can offend infinitely – his capacity extends that far – but he cannot produce an infinite reparation; what he, as a finite being, gives will always be only finite. His powers of destruction extend further than his capacity to reconstruct. Thus between all the reparations that man may attempt and the greatness of his guilt there remains an infinite gulf which he can never bridge. Any gesture of expiation can only demonstrate his powerlessness to close the infinite gulf which he himself opened up.

“In order to be destroyed for ever, then, and man to remain eternally imprisoned in the abyss of his guilt? At this point Anselm hits on the figure of Christ. His answer runs thus: God himself removes the injustice; not (as he could) by a simple amnesty, which cannot after all overcome from inside what has happened, but by the infinite Being’s himself becoming man and then as a man – who thus belongs to the race of the offenders yet possesses the power, denied to man, of infinite reparation – making the required expiation. Thus the redemption takes place entirely through grace and at the same time entirely as restoration of the right. Anselm thought he had thereby given a compelling answer to the difficult question of `Cur Deus homo,’ there wherefore of the incarnation and the cross. His view has put a decisive stamp on the second millennium of Western Christendom, which takes it for granted that Christ had to die on the cross in order to make good the infinite offence which had been committed and in this way to restore the damaged order of things.”

Benedict’s Comments: “But even if all this is admitted it cannot be denied on the other hand that the perfectly logical divine-cum-human legal system erected by Anselm distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light.”[4]

Later in "Introduction to Christianity" he expatiates: “The `infinite expiation’ on which God seems to insist thus moves into a double sinister light. Many devotional texts actually force one to thnk that Christian faith in the cross visualizes a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son, and one turns away in horror from a righteousness whose sinister wrath makes the message of love incredible.

This picture is as false as it is widespread. In the Bible the cross does not appear as part of a mechanism of injured right; on the contrary, in the Bible the cross is quite the reverse: it is the expression of the radical nature of the love which gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does, and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others. To anyone who looks more closely the scriptural theology of the cross represents a real revolution as compared with the notions of expiation and redemption entertained by non-Christian religions, though it certainly cannot be denied that in the later Christian consciousness, this revolution was largely neutralized and its whole scope seldom recognized. In other world religions expiation usually means the restoration of the damaged relationship with God by means of expiatory actions on the part of men. Almost all religions center round the problem of expiation; they arise out of man’s knowledge of his guilt before God and signify the attempt to remove this feeling of guilt, to surmount the guilt through conciliatory actions offered up to God….

“In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him right. Here we stand before the twist which Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that `God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5, 19). This is truly something new, something unheard of – the starting-point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the cross: God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the incarnation, of the cross.”


Hence, in the light of Ephesians 1, 4-6, and Benedict's biblical theology of the Cross, God became man for love, not for the necessity of repairing the damage of injustice to God. God is Love and became man because of Love, and nothing else. In so doing, He restored man to the eternal life to which he was predestined from the “beginning” and lost by sin. Since the orientation of man before the creation of the world, and therefore before sin, was to divinization and divine adoption, had there been no sin, the Word was already flesh as Christ in the Creator’s mind before it took place historically in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. And He continues as Flesh in the Godhead -pace modern-day gnosticism - throning from the right hand of the Father.

[1] John Paul II, “The Theology of the Body,” DSP [Waldstein] (2006, 1997)504-505; 334-335.
[2] Christopher West, “Theology of the Body Explained,” Pauline Books and Media (2003) 347-348.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 173-174.
[4] Ibid 174.
[5] Ibid 214-215.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Vigil 2006: The Genealogy of Matthew - and What it Means

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahson, and Nahson the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

“And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehosaphat, and Jehosaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham… and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”

De facto, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is totally unexceptional with regard to human excellence when it is not punctuated on the distaff side with prostitution (Rahab), legal incest (Tamar), adultery (Bathsheba), murder (Uriah), or idolatry (Ruth). On the male side of the genealogy it is not much better. Neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob is an ideal human being; David certainly is not, nor is Solomon; and finally we meet such abhorrent rulers as Ahaz and Manasseh, whose thrones are sticky with the blood of innocent victims. We will see below that the “greats” of the Old Testament like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob "seem at least quite mediocre and pathetic next to someone like Buddha, Confucious, or Lao-tzu."[1] Augustine’s paean concerning the beauty of truth found in the “Hortensius” of the pagan Cicero makes “the actors in the history of faith appear practically uncouth.”[2] Ratzinger notes that the word “uncouth” was the term Nietzsche used to refer to Augustine. Ratzinger punctuates the point when he says, “From the point of view of the history of religions, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really are not `great religious personalities.’”[3]

Raymond Brown remarks: “But what a curiouos cast of characters… Except for the first two (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel) and the last two (Joseph and Mary), they are a collection of unknown people whose names never made it into sacred history for having done something significant. In other words, while powerful rulers in the monarchy brought God’s people to a low point in recorded history (deportation), unknown people, presumably also proportionately divided among saints and sinners, were the vehicles of restoration. Still another indicator of the unpredictability of God’s grace is that He accomplishes His purpose through those whom others regard as unimportant and forgettable…. We hear nothing of the saintly patriarchal wives, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel. Matthew begins rather with Tamar, A Canaanite outsider left childless by the death of her first and second husbands, both of them Judah’s sons. When Judah failed to do his duty in providing her with a third son as husband, she disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced him. Only later when he found his widowed daughter-in-law in a pregnant situation that he regarded as disgraceful did she reveal that he was the father, causing Judah to recognize that she was more just and loyal to God’s law than he was. The next in the list is another outsider, the Canaanite Rahab – this time a real prostitute, but one whose kindness in protecting the Israelite spies made the conquest of Jericho possible (Joshua 2). Odd figures to be part of the beginning story of Jesus Christ, unless we remember his gracious dealings with sinners and prostitutes which were part of the story of his ministry. Ruth was another foreigner, a Moabite. Yet it was from her and not from her Israelite relatives that the impulse came to be faithful to the Law in raising up a child to her dead husband as she literally threw herself at the feet of Boaz. That child was to be the grandfather of David the king.”[4]

The first and obvious point here is that man is not the principal agent as a self-made mystic who evolves and progressively rises to God from below. Rather, God is the Principal Agent “who seeks out man in the midst of his worldly and earthly connections and relationships; God, whom no one, not even the purest of men, can discover for himself, comes to man of his own volition and enters into relationship with him… It is not primarily the discovery of some truth; rather, it is the activity of God himself making history. Its meaning is, not that divine reality becomes visible to man, but that it makes the person who receives the revelation into an actor in divine history. For here, in contrast to mysticism, God is the one who acts, and it is he who brings salvation to man.”[5]

An Account of This Dynamic

The ontological dynamic that undergirds God’s initiative and therefore the lowliness of the genealogy of Jesus Christ is the relational nature of the divine Persons. As God, the Logos is pure self-transcendence, pure Love that “compenetrates” the human nature – the human will – of Jesus Christ that had been “made sin” (2 Cor. 5, 21). The Son gives himself so completely to man that He enters into the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth and makes it His very own. The human will of Jesus Christ reveals the willing of a divine Person. The decisive text is John 6, 38: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own [human] will, but the will of him who sent me.” The “I” that is the gift in the human willing of Jesus of Nazareth to death is the divine “I” engendered and affirmed by the Father. Without being loved by the Father, the Son would not be Son nor capable of the unimaginable kenosis of crossing “the iron curtain of his untouchable transcendence” to emit from a human will the agape that is “one in substance” with the Father’s Love.

And so, it doesn’t matter that the genealogy is quite a mess. It is permitted to be a mess because God loves man’s freedom to make a mess because it is the same freedom that is capable of making the gift of self that is the divinization - the agape - lived out in the human will.

God Went “Too Far”

The divine gift of self that is God’s becoming man completely transcends human capacity. It is humanly conceivable to give something that is not oneself. But it totally inconceivable – and metaphysically impossible in an ontology of being-in-itself-nature or substance – to give away ones very self: the “I.”

It took the Church time and experience to come to grips conceptually with what John Paul II called God’s “going too far” in becoming man. That God be transcendent and totally beyond man experientially and conceptually, that he remain “separated from us by the iron curtain of his untouchable transcendence,”[6] was acceptable. But, says John Paul, “Could God go further in His stooping down, in His drawing near to man, thereby expanding the possibilities of our knowing Him? In truth, it seems that He has gone as far as possible. He could not go further. In a certain sense God has gone too far! Didn’t Christ perhaps become `a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1, 23) (emphasis mine)?

“And then protests began. “This great protest has precise names –first it is called the Synagogue, and then Islam. Neither can accept a God who is so human.
“It is not suitable to speak of God in this way,’ they protest. `He must remain absolutely transcendent; He must remain pure Majesty. Majesty full of mercy, certainly, but not to the point of paying for the faults of His own creatures, for their sins.’

The Church had to struggle to conceptualize its own consciousness not only of the transcendence, but of the simultaneous immanence. How could the Absolute be in the contingent, the Eternal in time, the Whole in the part? How could God be simultaneously man and have a human face, soul, intellect and will?[8] How could the Creator be part of creation? Nicea (325) defined that Christ was “of the same substance of the Father.” Ephesus (431) defined that He not only had flesh (sarx) but also a human soul, mind and will.
The lead-in to the Council of Ephesus was the work of Theodore of Mopsuestia who labored to affirm the full humanity of Christ and was followed by Nestorius (his pupil) who explicitly failed to make the distinction between person and nature and ended up in the heresy of asserting – there being two natures – that there were two persons. If that were the case, then the human will and nature would not have been assumed by the divine Person, and man would not have been divinized and redeemed. Theodore was posthumously condemned for the same point, but has recently been exonerated.[9] It is here in the distinction between person - the “I” - and nature (subject and object) that a new metaphysics distinct from substance had to be hewn. It was not hewn until Wojtyla took to thomistic act of existence (“esse”) and conflated it the “I” that was objectified as “I” by the work of a phenomenology of experience of moral action. It is only now that we are able to speak of an experience of the “I” in determining oneself in the moral act and therefore coming to the metaphysical possibility of an ontological “gift of self” which is at the root of Vatican II and can give an account of how sanctity can take place in the ordinary and the sinful of post-lapsarian genealogy.

An Aside on the Distinction Between Nature and Person as Presupposed in Vatican II

This distinction between nature and person is of monumental importance especially at the present moment when the entire shift of Vatican II was “to re-read the whole preceding magisterium in that of the last Council.”
[10] The distinction between nature and person is the distinction between subject and object, between experiencing reality in the experience of myself as “I,” and experiencing reality through the media of sensible perception and intellectual abstraction and judgment. One is “first-hand” in consciousness, the other is “second hand” in concepts.

Wojtyla made it clear as cardinal of Krakow that Vatican II “profoundly developed the doctrine of faith and thus provided a basis for its enrichment.”
[11] That enrichment consisted in viewing the objectified teaching of the entire magisterium – the dogma and the deposit of conceptual doctrine – through the lens of subjectivity, a subjectivity that was not subjectivism, but the ontological subjectivity of the “Ego Eimi” of Yahweh and Jesus Christ. He said: “If we study the Conciliar magisterium as a whole, we find that the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like `What should men believe?,’ `What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: `What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the [12]Church?’”[13] He clarifies that this shift is an epistemological shift from objectifying reality in a series of abstracted conceptual signs or symbols through which we know it, but to consider consciousness of the ontological “I” as a deeper and more realist form of knowing. The question is not to know “truths” about Christ Who is the revelation of the Father, but to know Christ as “Ego Eimi.” That can only take place by becoming like Christ Who is pure transcendence to the Father. Therefore, only those who transcend self in the act of faith as gift become “like” the Self-transcending - Self-revealing -Christ, and therefore “know” Him in His self-transcendence. In this light, Wojtyla says that to be a believing member of the Church “not only presupposes the truth of faith and pure doctrine, but also calls for that truth to be situated in the human consciousness and calls for definition of the attitude (the orientation of the “I”), or rather the many attitudes, that go to make the individual a believing member of the Church… A `purely’ doctrinal Council would have concentrated on defining the precise meaning of the truths of faith, whereas a pastoral Council proclaims, recalls or clarifies truths for the primary purpose of giving Christians a life-style, a way of thinking and acting.” He is talking here of giving the self.”

Having made this shift from object to subject, Vatican II, Wojtyla says, “expresses itself … in such a way that on the one hand we can rediscover and, as it were, re-read the magisterium of the last Council in the whole previous magisterium of the Church, while on the other we can rediscover and re-read the whole preceding magisterium in that of the last Council… This principle of integration, thus conceived and applied, is indirectly the principle of the Church’s identity, dating back to its first beginnings in Christ and the Apostles. This principle of identity operated in the Council and must continue to do so, integrating the whole patrimony of faith with and in the consciousness of the Church.”

Following the Council of Ephesus in 431, there as the definitive assertion of the Council of Chalcedon (451) that defined there to be only one divine Person and two natures in Christ. After 200 hundred years of struggle working in an objective fashion trying to understand how Christ could be both diving and human in some parallel fashion, and joined in the same person, the Council of Constantinople III (680-681) considered not the “natures” but the dynamics of a human will and a divine will. Through the efforts of St. Maximus the Confessor, Constantinople III defined that although the human and the divine are ontologically distinct ways of being, they were not in parallel but compenetrated because they were both the wills of the one divine Person acting (actiones sunt suppositorum) through both as His own. In a word, the wills did not will, a tendency called “reification” that conceptualization falls into. Rather, the “Yes” emitted by Jesus Christ to the Father is one personal “Yes” of both human and divine will. Only the one Person wills, but through double and distinct mediums. The “Yes” to the Father is the “Yes” of the divine “I” through the ontologically distinct wills that are His very Self. Hence, there is only one personal “Yes.”

This, of course, is huge in that it resolves the schizophrenic dualisms that we are to this day mired in without penetrating to the solution: supernatural-natural; grace-nature; faith-reason; Church-State; priest-layman; male-female. These dualisms are all resolved on the level of the person as relation, or self-gift. One must move from the “horizon” of the object to that of the subject, and work there with the “I” as self-gift. There man is ontologically hard-wired as image of God; grace is divine Love affirming man into personhood; the believing person as self-gift is the Being that reason is seeking; the believer becomes conscious of the self-evident truths grounding the democratic state; the minister and the lay faithful are both priests but irreducible in their field of mediation; male and female are equal but the same as self-gift. In this regard, Benedict remarked: “In conjoining himself to man, his creature, God does not violate or diminish him; in doing so, he brings him for the first time to his real fullness. On the other hand (and this is no less important), it abolishes all dualism or parallelism of the two natures, such as had always seemed necessary in order to safeguard Jesus’ human freedom In such attempts it had been forgotten that when the human will is taken up into the will of God, freedom is not destroyed; indeed, only then does genuine freedom come into its own.”

Now it is important to see the existential-historical build-up of this humanity of Jesus of Nazareth that the divine “I” – the Logos of the Father – assumed as His own, and to consider the meaning it has for us, the first being that we do not rise up to God as mystical “greats,” but rather are receptive of God coming down to us and living out the ordinariness of quotidian human existence. The report of the genealogy shows sin, failure, weakness and the ordinary. Benedict explains that “the incarnation of God does not result from an ascent on the part of the human race but from the descent of God”

* * * * * * * * *

Benedict XVI on the Christ’s Genealogy in Matthew

“St. Matthew the Evangelist begins his account of the Good News of Jesus Christ with the words: `The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.’ He searches out the human ancestors of this man Jesus, and attempts to locate him in relation to the history of the race. He shows the human origins of this life which did not drop straight from heaven but grew on a tree with a long history and ultimately sprang from the two great roots named Abraham and David. Matthew is presenting Jesus the man, and for this reason his symbol as evangelist is the Son of Man.

“The New Testament begins with man, just as the Old Testament had begun with the incalculably mysterious soliloquy of the Creator: `Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ A man stands at the beginning of the New Testament and reminds us of the nocturnal vision in which Daniel sees four beasts coming up from the sea: images, these, of the forces and powers of this world, the kingdoms that share dominion over this world and determine the course of history. Then, in counterbalance to the emergence of the beasts from the sea, he sees a man descending from heaven: an image, this, of the holy people, of the holy power of the human amid the inhuman powers that rise from the deep.

“The man Jesus stands at the beginning of the New Testament, but as one who emerges from the history of mankind. In his genealogy Matthew carefully plots the transition from the long and bewildering history set down in the Old Testament to the new reality that has begun with Jesus Christ. He sums up, as it were, this entire history in three sets of fourteen names and brings it down to him for whose sake alone, in the last analysis, it had existed…

“The questions arises in our minds: What kind of history must it have been that truly created at last the `space,’ the conditions, for the incarnation of God! What kind of human beings must they have been who traveled the final stretch of the journey! What integrity and maturity of spirit must have been attained at the point at which this supreme transformation of man and world could take place! But if we approach the text with these kinds of expectations, we shall find ourselves disappointed. The history of which Jesus becomes a part is a very ordinary history, marked by all the scandals and infamies to be found among human beings, all the advances and good beginnings, but also all the sinfulness and vileness – an utterly human history!”

* * * * * * * * *

“We are tempted to ask: Is that the context into which the Son of God could be born? And the scriptures answer: Yes. But all this is a sign for us. It tells us that the incarnation of God does not result from an ascent on the part of the human race but from the descent of God. The ascent of man, the attempt to bring forth God by his own efforts and to attain the status of superman – this attempt failed wretchedly back in Paradise. The person who tries to become God by his own efforts, who highhandedly reaches for the stars, always ends up by destroying himself. Thus the wretched course of Israelite history is a sign for us: a sign that it it not through artrogance and self-exaltation that human beings are delivered, but through humility, self-surrender, and service.

“Consequently, too, it may be a very good thing that the supreme religious personalities have lived and live today outside the Old Testament and even outside Christianity entirely. For, in Christianity the focus is not on great religious figures; Christianity representes rather the dethronement of religious figures. The thing that counts in Christianity is obedience, humility in the face of God’s word. `An infant, or an overdriven laborer, given faith, can take precedence before heroes of asceticism, because salvation does not come from nan’s greatness but from God’s gracious mercy.This sign of God’s descent, the saving sign that is his self-humbling, should imprint this passage of the Gospel deep inour hearts once again. It should once again convert us into persons who do not shun a similar descent; persons who know that precisely in their descent and in the little services life asks of them they are on the way to Jesus Christ…

“The entire genealogy, with all the disorders, all the ups and downs, that is represents, is a luminous testimony to the fidelity of God who kept his word despite all of man’s failure and unworthiness.”


God Is Principal “Actor;” Man Acts Obeying

In every other religion, man is the acting agent in the search of God. Mystical development in great religious figures is the characteristic of the pioneers in this search. Borrowing from Jean Danielou, Ratzinger remarks – and I repeat what was recorded above - that “If we set the principal actors in the covenant-even of Israel against the religious personalities of Asia, then first of all we feel remarkably uncomfortable. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, with all their wiles and tricks, with their ill-temper and their inclination to violence, seem at least quite mediocre and pathetic next to someone like Buddha, Confucius, or Lao-tzu, but even such great prophetic characters as Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are not entirely persuasive in such a comparison.” He later says: “From the point of view of the history of religions, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really are not `great religious personalities.’ Interpreting that away means here precisely interpreting away what impels us toward what is peculiar to and particular in the biblical revelation.
“This particular and wholly other element lies in the fact that the God of the Bible is not seen, as by the great mystics, but is experienced as one who acts and who remains (for the inner as for the outer eye) in the dark. And this in turn is because man does not, here, make his own attempts to rise, passing through the various levels of being to the inner-most and most spiritual level, thus to seek out the divine in its own place, but the opposite happens: God seeks out man in the midst of his worldly and earthly connections and relationships; God, whom no one, not even the purest of men can discover for himself, comes to man of his own volition and enters into relationship with him. We could say that biblical `mysticism’ is not… the discovery of some truth; rather, it is the activity of God himself making history. Its meaning is, not that divine reality becomes visible to man, but that it makes the person who receives the revelation into an actor in divine history. For here, in contrast to mysticism, God is the one who acts, and it is he who brings salvation to man.”

St. Josemaria Escriva

Benedict made the same remarks concerning the founder of Opus Dei at the moment of canonization. He wrote: “Escriva knew that he should found something, but he was always aware that whatever it was was not his work, that he had not invented anything, that the Lord had simply made use of him. Thus it was not his work, but Opus Dei. He was only an instrument with which God had acted… In this light one can understand even better what holiness means, as well as the universal calling holiness. Knowing a little about the history of saints, and understanding that in the causes of canonization there is inquiry into `heroic’ virtue, we almost inevitably have a mistaken concept of holiness: `It is not for me,’ we are led to think, `because I do not feel capable of attaining heroic virtue. It is too high a goal.’ Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some `greats’ whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely reserved for some `greats’ whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners. But this is a mistaken notion of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected – and this seems to me the central point – precisely by Josemaria Escriva…. To be holy does not mean being superior to others; the saint can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life. Holiness is this profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy. And if, then, Josemaria Escriva speaks of the calling of all to be saints, I think that he is actually referring to this personal experience of his of not having done incredible things by himself, but of having let God work. And thus was born a renewal, a force for good in the world, even if all the weaknesses of mankind will remain ever present. Truly we are all capable, we are all called to open ourselves up to this friendship with God, to not leave the hands of God, to not neglect to turn and return to the Lord, speaking with him as if speaking with a friend, knowing well that the Lord really is a true friend of everyone, including those who cannot great things by themselves.”[20]

The Genealogy: Quasi-Incest, Prostitution, Idolatry and Adultery: “The only four women named in the genealogy are all four of them witnesses to human sinfulness: Among them is Rahab the harlot who delivered Jericho intothe hands of the migrating Israelites. Among them, too, is the wirfe of Uriah, the woman whom David got for himself through adultery and jurder. Nor are the males in the genealogy any different. Neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob is an ideal human being; David certainly is not, nor is soloon; and finally we meet abhorrent rulers as Ahaz and Manasseh, whose thrones are ticky with the blood of innocent victims. It is a somber history that leads

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance,” Ignatius (2004) 41.
[2] Ibid 41.
[3] Ibid 42.
[4] Raymond E. Brown, “A Coming Christ in Advent,” The Liturgical Press (1988) 23
[5] Ibid 42.
[6] Benedict XVI, source unknown to me.
[7] John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Knopf (1994) 40-41.
[8] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio,” #12: “In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could to even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face.”
[9] The condemnation and exoneration of Theodore: Bardenhewer: “We possess at present only isolated fragments of these works but enough, however, to make certain that Theodore was a Nestorius before Nestorius. Like Diodorus he taught that in Christ there were two persons. The divine nature is a person, and the human nature is a person. The unity of the two natures consists in the community of thought and will. The Christian adores one sole Lord because the man who was joined to the Logos in a moral union was raised, in reward of his perseverance, to a divine dignity” (Patrology p. 321). However, “Grillmeier after a careful examination of his authentic writings has come to the conclusion that nobody contributed more to the progress of Christology in the generation of theologians between 381 and 431 than Theodore of Mopsuestia. If his doctrine contained some dangerous tendencies, it is equally true that he had also positive elements which point in the direction of Chalcedon and prepared its formula;” Johannes Quasten, “Patrology,” Christian Classics (1986) 415, 417.
[10] Karol Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal” Harper and Row (1979) 40.
[11] Ibid 17
[12] Ibid 17-18
[13] Ibid 17
[14] Ibid 40
[15] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 38.
[16] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 21.
[17] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 19-20.
[18] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 21-22.
[19] J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance,” Ignatius (2004) 42.
[20] J. Ratzinger, “L’Osservatore Romano (special supplement) 06 October 2002.