Thursday, September 14, 2006

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

History: “At the beginning of the seventh century the Persians ransacked Jerusalem. They destroyed many churches and took possession of the sacred relics. A few years later the Emperor Heraclius recovered them. According to pious tradition, the splendidly-dressed monarch, in full regalia, personally wanted to carry the Holy Cross to its original place on Calvary. The weight became increasingly unbearable as he walked o the Via Dolorosa. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Zecariah, explained to him that to carry the Cross he must imitate the poverty of Christ, who bore it free of every earthly attachment. Heraclius immediately divested himself of the imperial garments and put on humble pilgrim’s clothes. He was then able to carry the Holy Cross, unshod, to the summit of Golgotha.”[1]

Why the Cross?

Answer: To restore the good. But what is the good? John Paul II set the terms in which the question has to be newly addressed. It is not to be taken from St. Thomas’s presentation of the good as a deduction from the notion of being. In the Summa Theologiae he says: “Omne enim ens, inquantum est ens, est in actu, et quodammodo perfectum, quia omnis actus perfectio quaedam est. Perfectum vero habet rationem appetibilis et boni… Unde sequitur omne ens, inquantum huiusmodi, bonum esse” (Every being, insofar as it is being, is in act, and in some fashion perfect because every act is a certain perfection. The perfect includes the notion of the desirable and the good… From this it follows that every being, insofar as it is desirable, is good). As logical and true as this reasoning is, it is abstractive and deductive.

John Paul II goes first to Scripture and then to phenomenology and the anthropology of obedience. In Veritatis Splendor, he offers the scene of Christ and the rich young man: “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Mt. 19, 16). Jesus responds: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt. 19, 17). The young man answers: “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” (Mt. 19, 20). Jesus answers: “Come, follow me.” (Mt. 19, 21).

The logic of the dialogue directs one to experience rather than deduction. If only God is good, and you have been created in the image and likeness of God, then you have to do what God “does” (i.e. to enter into relation as self-gift in obedience and service to others). That is to say: you will experience what it means to be good when you not only obey the Ten Words of the Commandments, but when you live the Sermon on the Mount. That means that the “following of Christ” is more than following; it is becoming Christ Himself. John Paul said later in Veritatis Splendor #21:

"Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Phil. 2, 5-8)... `Let us rejoice and give thanks,' exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, `for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (...). Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!'"

What, then, is evil?

The logic is inexorable. If the good consists in being like God as image and likeness, and therefore doing what God does, then evil is the contradiction of the self-gift. It is the turning back on self and exaltation of the self as autonomous independence. Ultimately, it is disobedience.

The Meaning of the Cross:
The best statement on the meaning of the Redemption is Cardinal Ratzinger’s take on Constantinople III where he says: “The Logos so humbles himself that he adopts a man’s will as his own and addresses the Father with the I of this human being; he transfers his own I to this man and thus transforms human speech into the eternal Word, into his blessed `Yes, Father.’ By imparting his own I, his own identity, to this human being, he liberates him, redeems him, makes him God. Now we can take the real meaning of `God has become man’ in both hands, as it were: the Son transforms the anguish of a man into his own filial obedience, the speech of the servant into the Word which is the Son.

“Thus we come to grasp the manner of our liberation, our participation in the Son’s freedom. As a result of the unity of wills of which we have spoken, the greatest possible change has taken place in man, the only change which meets his desire: he has become divine. We can therefore describe that prayer which enters into the praying of Jesus and becomes the prayer of Jesus in the Body of Christ as freedom’s laboratory. Here and nowhere else takes place that radical change in man of which we stand in need, that the world may become a better place. For it is only alone this path that conscience attains its fundamental soundness and its unshakable power.”

Divinization or “goodness” takes place in Jesus of Nazareth because the divine Logos – the Eternal Son of the Father – assimilates the human will of the man Jesus into His divine Person. The human will becomes His will, the will of God, not by annihilation by absorption into the divinity nor by standing parallel to the divine Will. Ratzinger suggests that it is by way of “compenetration,” not by a kind of parallelism that is the result of an objectifying epistemology of reduction of everything to concepts and the source of all the dualism that have so dogged us for the last 500 years.

To make that clearer: “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 nature 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 one stands alongside the other, but real compenetration – compenetration between God and man – means salvation for humankind. Only thus in fact does that true `being with God’ take place, without which liberation and freedom do not exist…. If God joins himself to his creature – man/woman – he does not wound or diminish it: he brings it to its plenitude. But on the other hand (and this is no less important) there remains no trace of that dualism or parallelism of the two natures which in the course of history was frequently judged necessary to defend the human liberty of Jesus.
[Insert: the key to transcending the ideology of the dualisms of faith/reason, Church/State; grace/nature, even the exaggersted separation of supernatual/natural lies in understanding this decisive point]. Such studies forgot that the assumption of the human will into the divine will does not destroy freed, but on the contrary generates true liberty. The Council of Constantinople has analysed concretely the problem of the two natures and one person in Christ in view of the problem of the will of Jesus. We are reminded firmly that there exists a specific will of the man Jesus that is not absorbed into the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes a single will with it, not, however, in a forced way but by way of freedom. The metaphysical duplicity of a human will and a divine will is not eliminated, but in the personal sphere, the area of freedom there is accomplished a fusion of the two, so that his becomes not one single natural will but one personal will. This free union – a mode of union created by love – is a union higher and more intimate than a purely natural union. It corresponds to the highest union which can exist, the union of the Trinity. The Council 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 the 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 biome pure assent to the will of the Father.

“Maximus the confessor, the great theologian-exegete of this second phase of the development of Christological dogma, has illustrated those references to the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane… as the most clear expressions of the singular relationship of Jesus with God. In effect, in such prayer we can, so to speak, look into the inner life of the Word become man. We can see it in that phrase which remains the measure and model of all effective prayer: `Not what I will, but what thou wilt’ (Mk. 14, 36). The human will of Jesus enters into the will of the Son. By doing so, it receives the identity of the Son, which consists in entire subordination of the I to the Thou, in the giving and transferring of the I to the Thou: this is the mode of being of the one who is pure relation and pure act. When the `I’ gives itself to the ‘Thou,’ freedom originates, because the `form of God’ has been assumed.

“But we can describe this process also and better still from another viewpoint: the Logos stops to assume as his own the will of man, and speaks to the Father with the `I’ of this man, and thereby transforms the word of a man into the eternal word, into his own blessed `Yes, Father.’ While giving to this man his own `I,’ his own identity, the Logos frees the man, saves him, divinizes him. We here touch almost palpably on the reality meant by the phrase `God became man:’ the Son transforms the anguish of a man into the obedience of the Son, transforms the speech of the “servant” into the obedience of the Son. Thus becomes comprehensible also our way of liberation, our sharing in the freedom of the Son.”

Notice first that the relation of the divine and human in Christ is not considered in “static” terms of "nature," but in the dynamic terms of the wills, both divine and human. Notice also that it is not the will that wills but the one divine Person of the Logos. In the same vein, notice that is the same Person willing with autonomous wills that are not in parallel but compenetrated without losing the autonomy proper to each one, yet without being separated. They are both wills of the one divine Person who is the only Subject living out the “Yes” that is His very Being as Relation to the Father.

The Suffering God

This also addresses the problem whether God suffers. The epistemology of the neo-scholastic manuals have insisted that God as God cannot suffer since suffering involves diminution of being. If God suffered, then in that diminution, He would cease to be God. Hence, it is impossible for God to suffer as God. Thomas Weinandy remarks: “Here we enter into the heart of the mystery. While the mystery of the Incarnation, by its very nature, remains, the answer lies in the fact that as God the Son is not deprived of any good which would cause him to suffer as God. If the Son of God, as God, were deprived of some good which would cause him to suffer as God, it would mean, as I argued in previous chapters, that he is actually no longer God. Strange as it may seem, but no paradoxically, one must maintain the unchangeable impassibility of the Son of God as God in order to guarantee that it is actually the divine Son of God, one in being with the Father, who truly suffers as man. As man the diving Son of God was deprived, as are we, of human goods which did cause him, like us, to suffer.”[4]

A response to this could be the following from Bernard Lonergan:

“Q. Who suffered under Pontius Pilate?
A. Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
Q. Did he himself suffer, or was it somebody else, or was it nobody?
A He himself suffered.
Q. Did he suffer unconsciously?
A. No, he suffered consciously. To suffer unconsciously Is not to suffer at all. Surgical operations cause no pain, when the patient is made unconscious by an anesthetic.
Q. What does it mean to say that he suffered consciously?
A. It means that he himself really and truly suffered. He was the one whose soul was sorrowful unto death. He was the one who felt the cutting, pounding scourge. He was the one who endured for three hours the agony of the crucified.
Q. Do you mean that his soul was sorrowful but he himself was not sorrowful” [Weinandy]
A. That does not make sense. The Apostles’ Creed says explicitly that Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, suffered under Pontius Pilate.
Q. Do you mean that his body was scourged and crucified but he himself felt nothing?
A. No, he felt all of it. Were our bodies scourged and crucified, we would feel it. His was scourged and crucified. He felt it.
Q. Is not Jesus Christ God?
A. He is.
Q. Do you mean that God suffered?
A. In Jesus Christ there is one person with two natures. I do not mean that the one person suffered in his divine nature. I do mean that the one person suffered in his human nature.
Q. It was really that divine person that suffered though not in his divine nature?
A. It was. He suffered. It was not somebody else that suffered. It as not nobody that suffered;”

The thrust of Lonergan’s dialogue is to point out the confusion – the reification of faculties into personal agents – objects (faculties) into subjects (persons). Only persons – or subjects – suffer since only subjects exist and are the agents or patients of action.

The Reason for Suffering: Rebuild Goodness

John Paul II: “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dement in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.”[6]

John Paul returns to this thought in the last pages of his last book, Memory and Identity:”
“The suffering of the Crucified God is not just one form of suffering alongside others, not just another more or less painful ordeal: it is an unequaled suffering. In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love. It is true that suffering entered human history with original sin. Sin is that `sting’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15, 55-56) which inflicts pain, wounding man mortally. Yet the passion of Christ on the Cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within. It introduced into human history, which is the history of sin, a blameless suffering accepted purely for love. This suffering opens the door to the hope of liberation, hope for the definitive elimination of that `sting,’ which is tearing humanity apart. It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good.

The Purpose of Suffering: “All this evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering. In the love that pours forth from the heart of Christ, we find hope for the future of the world. Christ has redeemed the world: `By his wounds we are healed’ (Is. 53, 5).”[7]

What was the Ultimate Suffering of the Person of Jesus Christ?

The answer of Benedict XVI: What does the Creed mean by the phrase: “He descended into hell”?

“When one ponders on this, the question of the `scriptural evidence’ solves itself; at any rate in Jesus’ death-cry, `My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mark 15, 34), the mystery of Jesus’ descent into hell is illuminated as if in a glaring flash of lightning on a dark night. We must not forget that these words of the crucified Christ are the opening lines of one of Israel’s prayers (Ps. 22 [21]. 2) which summarizes in a shattering way the needs and hopes of this people chosen by God and apparently at the moment so utterly abandoned by him. This prayer that rises from the sheer misery of God’s seeming eclipse ends in praises of God’s greatness. This element too is present in Jesus’ death-cry…

“But perhaps we can try to get somewhere near by starting again from Jesus’ cry on the cross, which we found to contain the heart of what Jesus’ descent into hell, his sharing of man’s mortal fate, really means. In this lasts prayer of Jesus, as in the scene on the Mount of Olives, what appears as the innermost heart of his passion is not any physical pain but radical loneliness, complete abandonment. But in the last analysis what comes to light here is simply the abyss of loneliness of man in general, man who is alone in his innermost being. This loneliness, which is usually thickly overlaid but is nevertheless the true situation of man, is at the same time in fundamental contradiction with the nature of man, who cannot exist alone; he needs company. That is why loneliness is the region of feat, which is rooted in the exposure of a being that must exist but is pushed out into a situation which he cannot endure….

“This article [of the Creed] thus asserts that Christ strode thorough the gate of our final loneliness, that in his passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it. Now only deliberate self-enclosure is hell or, as the Bible calls it, the second death (Rev. 20, 14, for example). But death is no longer the path into icy solitude; the gates of the scheol have been opened.”

[1] Francis Fernandez, “In Conversation with God,” Volume Seven, Scepter (1993) 141.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 42.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad (1987) 88-90.
[4] Thomas G Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., “Does God Suffer?” UNDP (2000)205.
[5] Bernard Lonergan, “Christ as Subject: A Reply,” Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Vol. 4 Collection, University of Toronto Press (1988) 179-180.
[6] John Paul II, “Salvifici doloris,” #12.
[7] John Paul II, “Memory and Identity,” Rizzoli (2005) 167-168.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 226-230.