Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Priestly Soul: "Nuclear Fission at the Very Heart of Being" (Benedict XVI @ World Youth Day)

The evident clericalization of the laity, by inciting them toward what has become the commonplace of “the lay ecclesial minister,” would be avoided if we could get it straight that the layman and the laywoman is already priest by the sacrament of Baptism , and that the exercise of this priesthood develops the attitude of free self-determination that the Magisterium of the Church calls “secularity.”

Priesthood in Christianity is anthropological because Christ as man is the prototype of priest.

By using the word “anthropological” here, I mean that the metaphysical structure of the human person as a subject is able to fold over on itself in order to determine itself in freedom in the execution of activity. Agency is not merely a substantial nature that filters its dynamism through the accidental faculties of intellect and will, and presto!, we have a human action. Agency of cause of action originates in the person as subject who freely decides about himself, and ultimately gives himself.

Jesus Christ as the Meaning of Man: Gaudium et Spes #22 reads that “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh, that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type [my italics] of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”

Self-Determination as the Anthropology of Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ, as God-man, completely “folds over” on Himself by completely subduing himself to make the gift of Himself to the Father (that was never relinquished as Son in the Trinitarian Relation) in the obediential death of the man Jesus Christ. It is the metaphysic of divine personhood re-dynamizing the prototypically human, i.e., recasting the meaning of fallen man into the historically existing prototype that He is. It must be remembered that Adam was never the meaning of man. Gaudium et Spes #22 presented him as only “type,” not prototype. The footnote to GS 22 reads: “For in all the form which was moulded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who was to be” (Tertullian).The Son, laden with the sins of all men[1] does this by living out divined personhood - that is relation - by obeying with His human will to death.

Benedict XVI describes Christ’s self-mastery/self-gift in terms of the Council of Chalcedon’s definition of the union of the two natures in the one “I” of the Logos. Keep in mind that the act of existence – the Esse - of the divine “nature” is the same as that of the human “nature,” the Esse of the divine Persons. (See below: footnote #5). Benedict says:

“The Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of his own I: `For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, abut the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience, where both wills become one single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being.”[2]

Mediation as Self-Determination is Priesthood: In the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9, 6 – 10, 10), St. Paul explains that the sacrifices of the Old Law were extrinsic: “The priests always used to enter into the first tabernacle to perform the sacred rites; but it the second tabernacle the high priest alone entered once a year, not without blood, which he offered for his own and the people’s sins of ignorance. The Holy Spirit signified by this that the way into the Holies was not yet thrown open while the first tabernacle was still standing. This first tabernacle is a figure of the present time, inasmuch as gift and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshipper in conscience, since they refer only to food and drink and various ablutions and bodily regulations imposed until a time of reformation.”

“But when Christ appeared as high priest of the good things to come, he entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands (that is, not of this creation), nor again by virtue of blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood, into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkles ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

“And this is why he is mediator of a new covenant…”

And again:

“But as it is, once for all at the end of the ages, he has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

And again:

“In saying in the first place, `Sacrifices and oblations and holocausts and sin-offerings thou wouldst not, neither hast thou had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the Law), and then saying, `Behold, I come to do thy will, O God,’ he annuls the first covenant in order to establish the second. It is in this `will’ that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Baptism and Orders:

Two Sacramental (and therefore, Ontologically Different) Ways of Living the One Priesthood of Christ.

Précis: Both sacraments of Baptism and Orders confer “character.” “Character” is the ontological dimension of the person as relation. Since relation is directional, or “vectorial,” and relation is an abstract concept meaning the giving of the self, the irreducible difference of the sacraments implies an irreducible difference in the ontological giving of the self. The direction in the laity is the world since secularity is “characteristic” of their self-gift. The direction of the minister is the laity itself, since they are not able to activate themselves as mediators of the self-gift without the Word, the Mass and the Sacraments, particularly Penance. This relation of laity and minister, therefore, is irreducibly and essentially different as sacramental (and therefore ontological) participations in the one priesthood of Christ. However, as constitutively relational, they form a communio whereby the one cannot exist or function as such without the other. This mediation or self-giving on the part of both is called “the priestly soul” and characterizes the Church itself.

Development: If priesthood means mediation, and if priesthood in Christ is intrinsic in that He mediates between Himself and the Father (not between others and the Father in that the “others” are part of His Body), then priesthood means self-gift. Self-gift is not accidental gift. It means that in some mysterious way, the very “I” of the human person is given to another. This is experienced in betrothed (spousal) love, says John Paul II in “Love and Responsibility” (96), and so, difficult as it may be to resolve into a metaphysics of substance (to-be-in-self-and-not-in-other) (which it cannot), it nevertheless is experienced, and therefore, known. To be, then, means “to-be-for-the-other” in a complete and total way, even unto death as we have seen in Jesus Christ, who lives this betrothed love as Bridegroom for His Bride the Church – literally unto death. Christ being the prototype of man, and therefore, the prototype of priesthood, reveals that priesthood is an anthropology of self-gift. It is an anthropology of relation, which is akin to the relation of spouses (as male and female). And relations can be equal but dissimilar in that they point, or are directed, in different directions, or to different objects. It’s within the experience of being in relation that one can understand how two things can be equal to a third, yet dissimilar to each other since equal vectors can point in radical different directions. And it is in the difference of vectorial directions that the anthropology for sexual equality with irreducible differences (between men and women) has to be forged.

This is what is revealed to us in the Trinity. The Persons of God are radically equal as divine yet irreducibly different as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Men and women, created as enfleshed images of the Creator who is “We,” experience themselves – today, now – to be radically equal, but laboring at how to explain the experienced irreducible diversity within the equality. The majority of the population finds it repugnant to identify sameness with equality in sexual issues. The entire gay marriage debacle is forcing us to craft an anthropology of person in intrinsically and (as they say in philosophic circles) “constitutively” relational terms. That is, the relation of a man to a woman is not the same as the relation of a woman to a man, and a fortiori man to man and woman to woman.. And these deeply felt experiences need to be articulated conceptually, indeed, philosophically.

It seems that Benedict XVI is going down this epistemological road with the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est." He is preparing the Church to become familiar with and therefore able to assimilate the teaching Vatican II (that has not been assimilated) by asserting the intrinsic and “constitutive” relation between eros and agape. The dynamic of the relation of God being Love (Agape) as the Absolute that responds and completes the tendency of the human person imaging God (eros) towards it, is the beginning of moving the mind of the Church in that direction. Since God is Love, and the human person is created in that image, the topic of the encyclical is really about the metaphysics of person as relation and the epistemology that follows thereon.[3]

Person as relational impacts directly on the meaning of priesthood in laity and in minister. Both impart the power of mediating between self and the other. The direction of the self-giving is equal but to very different objects. The priesthood of the laity through the sacrament of Baptism is mediating self-gift to the world, while the priesthood of the minister through Orders mediates self to the layman. In this way, the priesthood of both is equal but the “direction” in which it is lived as relation is different, as the priesthood of Mary is different from the priesthood of Peter.

They are as different as male is different from female. By the sacrament of Baptism, one enters the Body of Christ as Bride: female. By the sacrament of Orders, one is able to act in Persona Christi as Bridegroom: male. The relation of minister to laity is analogous as male to female, both as equal and as dissimilar. As the prototype of spousal relationality (“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the Church”[4]), the husband wife relationship finds its meaning in the relation of Christ to the Church, and, by sacramental extension, the minister to the layman. In this way, the Church is understood as communio, such that the protagonist of layman cannot be who he is without the service of the ministerial priest, and the protagonist of the ministerial priest cannot function if he is not needed by the laity.

In passing, St. Josemaria Escriva described Opus Dei as “a little bit of the Church.” The social arrangement of laity and ministers in Opus Dei shows clearly the primordial social and sacramental arrangement that should obtain in the Church as the vestigial clericalism begins to recede. Opus Dei’s “lay faithful (men and women) and the priests who act as its clergy complement each other in exemplary adherence to the basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between christifideles –called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and sacred ministers, who bring in , besides, the `ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order”[5] (underline mine).

Priestly Soul Engenders Secularity:

Since the priestly soul is the mediator-as-self-giver that arises from both Baptism and Orders, and since self-giving is a phenomenon of the freedom of self-determination and relative autonomy (“theonomy,” since there is no absolute autonomy in created persons who need the affirmation of love to be who they are and to activate themselves in self-determination[6]), the priestly soul is the source of secularity. The Prelate of Opus Dei once remarked: “Secularity is something Christian, a Christian way of being and living. In other words, our divine vocation, our spirit – or in broader terms, Christian faith and morality – cannot be judged from the starting-point of a secularity defined a priori. Rather, secularity should be judged and valued – or rather, discovered – from the starting-point of our vocation, and what the Christian faith reveals to us about man, about the world and about our destiny.”[7]

[1] “For our sakes he made him to be sin who knew nothing of sin, so that in him we might become the justice of God,” [2 Cor. 5, 21].
[2] Josef Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (19860) 92-93.
[3] In passing, we might suggest that only by entering into this “hermeneutic of continuity” between eros and agape can we begin to understand the answers of Vatican II to the “three circles of questions.” They were “the relationship between faith and modern science,” “the relationship between the Church and the modern State,” and “the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions” (Benedict XVI, “Interpreting Vatican II,” Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005). What is involved in the three questions is understanding person as essentially relational.
[4] Eph. 5, 25.
[5] Pedro Rodriguez, Opus Dei in the Church Scepter (1994) 38.
[6] See Veritatis Splendor #41: One can never be radically autonomous before God the Creator and Lover of man. Without being loved and therefore affirmed (i.e. receiving grace), the human person cannot experience self-identity nor the ability to exercise the freedom of self-determination.
[7] Letter Nov. 28, 1995, #21.


Michael Barber said...

You've been linked! Great post!

Anonymous said...

1 Comment - when the term "anthropologcal" signifies that "the human able to fold over on itself, it seems similar to "transcendence" used by the existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel,i.e."man's capacity to see and be part of the world around him in a unique way, and ultimately, in a way that
moves the person closer to God. In that sense we can be "homo viator," man enroute. A concept use in the writings of Walker Percy.

Rev. Robert A. Connor said...

Dear Michael,
Comment - when the term "anthropologcal" signifies that "the human able to fold over on itself, it seems similar to "transcendence" used by the existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel,i.e."man's capacity to see and be part of the world around him in a unique way, and ultimately, in a way that
moves the person closer to God. In that sense we can be "homo viator," man enroute. A concept used in the writings of Walker Percy.
Me: what I mean by "fold over" is self-determination which presupposes self governance and leads to self-gift = self transcendence as act. But you're right on it. I'm a huge Percy fan and fledgling re Marcel (but willing to learn). Thanks for your link. Fr. Bob Connor