Thursday, January 12, 2006

Class: "Study Guide:" A New Language by Dr. Mary Shivanandan

Class: “Study Guide:” A New Language (A Study Guide on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body) by Mary Shivanandan.

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI can be characterized by their working on two tiers of experience yielding two distinct yet complementary forms of knowing: the experience of sensation of the external world, and the experience of the self in the moment of moral (free) action. The two levels of experience and knowledge – of object and subject - combine to yield the truth of Being as external world, as self, as Christ and as the Father. When one achieves the truth of Christ, and therefore the Father,[1] one has already entered into eternal life.
But, “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” (Jn.1, 18). The question then is: how to know the Christ who was seen. There were only a few who saw Christ with their eyes who recognized Him. What did it take? Only those who were intimate with him and prayed with Him to the Father recognized Him: “And it came to pass as he was praying in private, that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them, saying, `Who do the crowds say that I am?’ And they answered and said, `John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen again.’ And he said to them, `But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, `The Christ of God’” (Lk. 9, 18-21).

Then - Cardinal Ratzinger explained that prayer is the first act of faith as response of self-gift to the revelation of the Father in the Son: “(W)e saw that prayer was the central act of the person of Jesus and, indeed, that this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls `Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand this person by entering into this act of prayer, by participating in it. This is suggested by Jesus’ saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6, 44)… Where there is no relationship with God, there can be no understanding of him who, in his innermost self, is nothing but relationship with God, the Father… Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in his prayer, which … is an act of love, of self-giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement to reading the Gospels, adding nothing to knowledge of him….”[2]

John Paul II was most explicit and articulate on the subjective character of revelation, and the subjective character of the prayer of response to this revelation. On the evening of August 14, 1991 at the Shrine of Jasna Gora he said:

“A. I am (the word) – I am’: behold the name of God. So responds a Voice from the burning bush to Moses when he asked to know the Name of God. `I am who am’ (Ex. 3, 14)…”[3] Then with regard to the New Testament and Jesus Christ: “This [“I AM” as the foundation of the Old Covenant] also constitutes the foundation of the New Covenant. Jesus Christ said to the Hebrews: `The Father and I are one’ (Jn. 10, 30). `Before Abraham came to be I AM’ (Jn. 8, 58). `When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM’ (Jn. 8, 28).”

This is the profound depth of Revelation. God’s very Name is the existential “I.” Man must respond with his “I” as our Lady’s “Yes:” John Paul II continued:

“Man was created in the image and likeness of God, to be able to exist and to be able to say to his Creator `I am.’ In this human `I am’ is all the truth of life and conscience. `I am’ before You, who `Are’” … You come here, dear friends, to renew and confirm to the very depths this human identity: `I am,’ in front of the `I AM’ of God. Look at the cross upon which the divine `I AM’ means `Love.’ Look at the cross and do not forget! May the `I am near you’ be the key phrase for your whole life” [4] (underline mine).

The “I” is the seat of experience. There is no such thing as “experience” where there is no self to do the experiencing, and being so, experience always involves consciousness.

* * * * * * * * *

An Aside: The Mission of Benedict XVI:

I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.[5]

* * * * * * * * * * *

This experience of the self as Being and as “I” has never been isolated by philosophic thought, and yet philosophic thought is about nothing else. Wojtyla has found it by cumulus of life experiences (erlebnis) before setting out to discover himself as “I – Being” by using the tool of describing these inner experiences (“phenomenology”). The great trouble is that the experience is delivered to us as consciousness, and therefore readily confusable with thought and not as being. Hence, 400 years of the dualism of thought and matter, subjectivism and mechanism. The advantage of using Dr. Shivanandan’s work is the emphasis she gives to the experience of the self as the initial doorway to this new horizon and new language. Christopher West doesn’t miss it, but she gives more emphasis to it. And I would say, if one doesn’t pass through over this threshold, the dynamics of Being on this level are not understood, namely, to be = to be for; love and life are the same act; one finds self by the gift of self. On this metaphysical horizon, relation is not accidental to being but constitutive. This is not disclosed on the level of the experience of being by sensation where to be = to be in self (substance), and relation is accidental.

Just recently I was struggling with a doctor on organ transplants. He was arguing for brain death in macro organisms as the criterion for removal of cells (embryonic stem cells) from fertilized eggs in IVF “which” had lost integration between the few cells present in the embryo. I asked him if there was “anyone home” or was he sure that not. He did not understand. He was working in terms of mechanisms of functioning (the first level of experience), and I was asking if the totality of the organism – macro or micro – was an “organism,” i.e., one being. I was asking about the organism as "being." The question did not make sense to him.

I offered him Aristotle’s work on the De Anima: The biological organismic whole is greater than the sum of its parts because heterogeneous parts must have a third “something” that is the cause of their being “one” organism. The analogy that Aristotle makes is to the way we make inorganic things, like a sofa. There are the heterogeneous parts like wood, cloth, padding, etc. (The heterogeneity may seem naive, but it carries through to the depths).

“For to say what are the ultimate substances out of which an animal is formed, to state, for instance, that it is made of fire or earth, is no more sufficient than would be a similar account the case of a couch or the like. For we should not be content with saying that the couch was made of bronze or wood or whatever it might be, but should try to describe its design or mode of composition in preference to the material; or, if we did deal with the material, it would at any rate be with the concretion of material and form. For a couch is such and such a form embodied in this or that matter, or such and such a matter with this or that form; so that its shape and structure must be included in our description. For the formal nature is of greater importance than the material nature”[6] (underline mine).

We have seen that Aristotle, and Gilson commenting,[7] that we cannot give an account of an organism, i.e., a oneness made up of heterogeneous parts without recurring to the presence of a third something that is not a part and which is the cause of the integration of the irreducible heterogeneity. It must be borne in mind that a biological organism is precisely heterogeneous in its parts in order to be and to be self-moving. If there were not parts moved and parts moving (heterogeneity), the organism could not be self-moving without presenting a contradiction in the very experience of being a being.

It occurs to me that neither Aristotle, nor Gilson, would be “content” with a merely functional description of the parts of the couch because in so doing they would not be describing the “couch” as being. The reason “why” is due to the fact that “Man’s experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”[8]

That is to say, the experience that drives the mind to affirm that there must be an organizing “third thing” within the organism to account for the organism as “being” is the experience we have of ourselves as ontological subjects, or "wholes." And this experience has never been accounted for, precisely because it was masked and disguised as consciousness. Since Descartes to the present day, the self or “I” has been confused with thought, or emotion, but never with being. And if it was considered being, it was being as object or substance (a category), but never as a unique and unrepeatable “I.” This is new in history of thought and language.

Once discovered, it becomes a most powerful tool to cross over the threshold of sin into the pre-lapsarian experience before sin, that is reported in Genesis 2, and do an expose of the original anthropology, or meaning of man as he came forth from the hands of God as image and likeness.

[1] “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); “No on one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (Jn. 6, 44); and then knowledge as eternal life: “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).
[2] Josef Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 26.
[3] John Paul II, “Learn to Love Christ More Intensely,” L’Osservatore Romano N. 34 (1204) – 26 August 1991, 1.
[4] Ibid.
[5] From the interview with Polish Television on October 16, 2005:
[6] Aristotle, “On the Parts of Animals,” I, 1, 640b.
[7] Etienne Gilson, “From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again,” UNDP (1984) Prologue 1, 16.
[8] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” Introduction Analecta Husserliana D. Reidel Publishing Co. (1979) 3.

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