Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls 2006

"Cogitor, Ergo Sum:" I Am Thought About (Loved), Therefore, I Am (Live)

The basic problem of human existence: death. What saves me from death is having been loved by “the other who still stands when I have fallen apart. Man is a being who himself does not live for ever but is necessarily delivered up to death. For him, since he has no continuance in himself, survival, from a purely human point of view, can only become possible through his continuing to exist in another. The statements of Scripture about the connection between sin and death are to be understood from this angle. For it now becomes clear that man’s attempt `to be like God,’ his striving for autonomy, through which he wishes to stand on his own feet alone, means his death, for he just cannot stand on his own. If man – and this is the real nature of sin – nevertheless refuses to recognize his own limits and tries to be completely self-sufficient, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death.”[1]

It is illuminating to consider the scriptural, revelational understanding of death from the Greek philosophica perspectivel. Benedict’s relational understanding of being is critical here. He says, “(W)e can understand afresh the biblical message, which promises immortality not to a separated soul but the whole man.”[2] He goes on: “The Greek conception is based on the idea that man is composed of two intrinsically alien substances, one of which (the body) perishes, while the other (the soul) is in itself imperishable and therefore goes on existing in its own right independent of any other beings. Indeed, it was only in the separation from its essentially alien body, so it was thought, that the soul came fully into its own. The biblical train of thought, on the other hand, presupposes the undivided unity of man; for example, Scripture contains no word denoting only the body (separated and distinguished from the soul), while conversely in the vast majority of cases the word soul too means the whole corporeally existing man; the few places where a different view can be discerned hover to a certain extent between Greek and Hebrew thinking and in any case by no means abandon the old view. The awakening of the dead (not of bodies!) of which Scripture speaks is thus concerned with the salvation of the one, undivided man, not just with the fate of one (so far as possible secondary) half of man. It now also become clear that the real heart of the faith in resurrection does not consist at all in the idea of the restoration of the body, to which we have reduced it in our thinking; such is the case even though this is the pictorial image used throughout the Bible. What, the, is the real content of the hope symbolically proclaimed in the Bible in the shape of the resurrection of the dead? I think that this can best be worked out by means of a comparison with dualistic conception of the ancient philosophy.

“1. The idea of immorality denoted in the Bible by the word `resurrection’ is an immortality of the `person,’ of the one creation `man.’ In Greek thought, the typical man is a perishable creature which as such does not live on but goes two different ways in accordance with its heterogeneous formation out of the body and soul; but according to the biblical belief it is precisely this being, man, that as such goes on existing, even if transformed.

“2. It is a question of `dialogic’ immortality (=awakening!); that is, immortality results not simply from the self-evident inability-to-die of the individual but from the saving deed of the lover who has the necessary power; man can no longer totally perish because he is known and love by God. All love wants eternity, and God’s love not only wants it but effects it and is it. In fact the biblical idea of awakening grew directly out of this dialogal theme: he who prays knows in faith that God will restore the right (Job 19, 25 ff.; Ps. 73, 23 ff.);’ faith is convinced that those who have suffered in the interests of God will also receive a share in the redemption of the promise (2 Macc. 7, 9 ff.). Immortality as conceived by the Bible proceeds not from the personal force of what is in itself indestructible but from being drawn into the dialogue with the Creator; that is why it must be called awakening. Because the Creator means not just the soul but the man physically existing in the midst of history and gives him immortality, it must be called `awakening of the dead’ = `of men.’”

“3. That the awakening is expected on the`Last Day,’ at the end of history, and in the community of all mankind, indicates the communal character of human immortality, which is related to the whole of mankind, from which, towards which and with which the individual has lived and hence becomes happy or unhappy.”

The above could only attains their “full scope after the New Testament had given concrete shape to the biblical hope – in the last analysis the Old Testament by itself leaves the question of the future of man in the air. Only with Christ, the man is `one with the Father,’ the man through whom the being is `one with the Father,’ the man through whom the being `man’ has entered into God’s eternity, does the future of man finally appear open. Only in him, the `second Adam,’ is the question of man’s identity finally answered. Christ is man, completely; to that extent the question who we men are is present in him. But he is at the same time God speaking to us, the `Word of God.’ In him the conversation between God and man which has been going on since the beginning of history has entered a new phase: in him the Word of God became `flesh’ and was really injected into our existence. But if the dialogue of God with man means life, if it is true that God’s partner in the dialogue himself has life precisely through being addressed by him who lives for ever, then this means that Christ, as God’s word to us, is himself `the resurrection and the life’ (Jn. 11, 25). It also means that the entry into Christ known as faith becomes in a qualified sense an entry into that being known and loved by God which is immortality: `Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life’ (Jn. 3, 15; 3, 36; 5, 24). Only from this angle is it possible to understand the train of thought of the fourth evangelist, who in his account of the Lazarus episode wants to make the reader understand that resurrection is not just a distant happening at the end of the world but happens now through faith.”

Which is it?... Being Loved or Having a Spiritual Soul?

“Now one could say: Is it not then much simpler to see the distinguishing mark of man in the fact the he has a spiritual, immortal soul? This definition is perfectly sound; but we are in fact at this moment engaged in the process of trying to elucidate its concrete meaning. The two definitions are not in the least contradictory; they simply express the same thing in different modes of thought. For `having a spiritual soul’ means precisely being willed, known and loved by God in a special way; it means being a creature called by God to an eternal dialogue and therefore capable for its own part of knowing God and of replying to him. What we call in substantialist language `having a soul’ will be described in a more historical, actual language as `being God’s partner in a dialogue.’ This does not mean that talk of the soul is false …; in one respect it is indeed even necessary in order to describe the whole of what is involved here. But on the other hand it also needs to be complemented if we are not to fall back into a dualistic conception which cannot do justice to the dialogue and personalistic view of the Bible[5] (all bold and underline is mine).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 230-231.
[2] Ibid 269.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction…” op. cit. 270-271.
[4] Ibid 272-273.
[5] Ibid 275.

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