Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas 2006

“The event of Bethlehem is not a romantic little idyll; it is the universal turning point. God no longer remains separated from us by the iron curtain of his untouchable transcendence; he has stepped across the dividing line to become one of us” – Benedict XVI


The Novelty:

“In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ’s revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolutely valid source of meaning for human life.”[1]

The novelty consists in the staggering realization of the presence of the Creator in His creation, of the Absolute in the contingent. Consider that if the Creator does not give Being, there is no creation. And when there is creation, He enters it as a part of it. It is the antithesis of the dictatorship of relativism. “Not infrequently it is proposed that theology should avoid the use of terms like `unicity,’ `universality,’ and `absoluteness,’ which give the impression of excessive emphasis on the significance and value of the salvific event of Jesus Christ in relation to other religions. In reality, however, such language is simply being faithful to revelation, since it represents a development of the sources of the faith themselves. From the beginning, the community of believers has recognized in Jesus a salvific value such that he alone, as Son of God made man, crucified and risen, by the mission received from the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit, bestows revelation (cf. Mt. 11, 27) and divine life (cf. Jn. 1, 12) to all humanity and to every person. In this sense, on can and must say that Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race and its history, which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal, and absolute. Jesus is, in fact, the Word of God made man for the salvation of all….” Vatican II taught: “The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the center of mankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfillment of all aspirations. It is he whom the Father raised from the dead, exalted and placed at his right hand, constituting him judge of the living and the dead.’ `It is precisely this uniqueness of Christ which gives him an absolute and universal significance whereby, while belonging to history, he remains history’s center and goal: `I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev. 22, 13).”[2]



The Relation of the Human to the Divine:


The import of this is to communicate what this means for the meaning of man and the rest of creation that is “for” man. The Council of Nicea (325) affirmed that Jesus is indeed equal to the Father as God. The Council of Ephesus (431) affirmed that Jesus was not only God but also fully man. He wasn’t God in flesh (Logos-Sarx theology) without having a human soul, human intellect and human will. The divine Person did not supplant the functions of human soul, intellect and will. What was not assumed by the Logos was not redeemed. The Council of Chalcedon (451) affirmed that indeed the full humanity of Jesus of Nazareth was present to the total divinity of the Logos in the unicity of the one divine Person. There is no human person in Jesus Christ, only the divine.

The great word that needed interpretation was: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6, 38).


The Problem-Mystery:

How to save the freedom of the human will of Jesus Christ from being absorbed and therefore crushed by the absolute of the His divine will? How was Christ able to be free as man if in reality He is God?

Benedict XVI remarks: “It was to this question, after two centuries of dramatic struggles which also, in many ways, bore the mark of imperial politics, that the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) addressed itself. On the one hand, it teaches that the unity of God and man in Christ involves no amputation or reduction in any way of human nature. 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. The Council of Constantinople analyzed the question of the two-ness and the one-ness in Christ by reference to the concrete issue of the will of Jesus. It resolutely maintains that, as man, Jesus has a human will which is not absorbed by the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes one will with it, not in a natural manner but along the path of freedom. The metaphysical two-ness of a human and a divine will is not abrogated, but in the realm of the person, in the realm of freedom, the fusion of both takes place, with the result that they become one will not naturally, but personally. This free unity – a form of unity created by love – is higher and more interior than a merely natural unity. It corresponds to the highest unity there is, namely, Trinitarian unity. The Council illustrates this unity by citing a dominical word handed down to us in the Gospel of John: `I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). Here it is the divine Logos who is speaking, and he speaks of the human will of the man Jesus as his will, the will of the Logos. With this exegesis of John 6, 38 the Council indicates the unity of the subject in Christ. There are not two `I’s in him, but only one. The Logos speaks in the I-form of the human will and mind of Jesus; it has become his I, has become adopted into his I, because the human will is completely one with the will of the Logos. United with the latter, it has become a pure Yes to the Father’s will.[3]

This insight here is most helpful. Benedict is saying that for two centuries (451-680/681), the Church struggled trying to find the proper conceptualization to account for the freedom of the human will before the diving will in the same Person, without losing its entitative identity as a will. That is, how was the human will able to be a will as distinct from the divine will, and yet connected to the divine will?

The answer that the theologians gave to this was: the human will must be parallel to the divine will as entitatively distinct but in conformity with it. Benedict answers differently with the insight of the relational meaning of the divine Person. The divine Person was relational as self-gift to the point that he made the human will of Jesus of Nazareth his own personal will, just as the divine willing was His very Person. In a word, instead of being “parallel,” the two wills were “compenetrated” by the relational Person of the Logos. Hence, the union of the two wills was in the Person doing the willing, not in trying to analyze the wills as if they were themselves agents of willing. It is the same Person who wills with the divine will and who wills with the human will. Since it is the same Person, the wills both say the “Yes” of Christ to the Father, now as divine, now as human. They are “compenetrated” by the one Person.

Listen to then-Josef Ratzinger: “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 a 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 hot 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.

“This same query returned at the third Council of Constantinople (680-681) after two centuries of dramatic struggle marked most often also by Byzantine politics. According to this Council, on the one hand: the unity between the divinity and the humanity in Christ does not in any sense imply an amputation or reduction of the humanity. 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. Such studies forgot that the assumption of the human will into the divine will does not destroy freedom, but on the contrary generates true liberty. The Council of Constantinople has analyzed 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 this 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 a 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.
“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, which we have already seen in the previous meditation, 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 who 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 relations and pure act. When the `I’ gives itself to the `Thou,’ freedom originates, because the `form of God’ has been assumed.
But we can also describe this process, and describe it better, from the other side: the Logos so humbles himself that he adopts a man’s will as his own and addresses the Father with te 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.
“In the unity of wills of which we have spoken is attained the greatest conceivable transformation of any person, which is at the same time the one thing ultimately desirable: divinization. Thus the prayer which enters into the prayer of Jesus, and which in the body of Christ becomes the prayer of Jesus Christ, can be defined as the `laboratory’ of freedom. Here, and in no other place occurs that profound change in a person which we need for the world to become better. Only on this road in fact does conscience attain its full rectitude and an irresistible strength. And only from this conscience can be born again that order in human affairs which corresponds to human dignity and which can defend it: an order which in every generation must be sought afresh by a vigilant human conscience, so that the Kingdom of God may come, a kingdom which God alone can build.”
[4]

The Impact on us: We have been sacramentally inserted into the very Being of Jesus Christ by sacrament of Baptism whereby we die to our seeking ourselves and make the gift of ourselves. That takes place in Christ – the compenetration of the human by the divine – takes place in us. His humanization by assuming the total human nature of Jesus of Nazareth becomes divinization of that nature/will. So also, the sacramental insertion into Christ by Baptism and its act which is the self-gift of faith, divinizes us. We are destined, baptized and actualized if we permit it into becoming other Christs.


Hide and Seek:


“I am reminded here of a rabbinical tale recorded by Elie Wiesel. He tells of Jehel, a little boy, who comes running into the room of his grandfather, the famous Rabbi Baruch. Big tears are rolling down his cheeks. And he cries, `My friend has totally given up on me. He is very unfair and very mean to me.’ `Well, could you explain this a little more?’ asks the Master. `Okay,’ responds the little boy. `We were playing hide and seek. I was hiding so well that he could not find me. But then he simply gave up and went home. Isn’t that mean?’ The most exciting hiding place has lost its excitement because the other stops playing. The Master caresses the boy’s face. He himself now has tears in his eyes. And he says, `Yes, this is not nice. But look, it is the same way with God. He is in hiding, and we do not seek him. Just imagine! God is hiding, and we people do not even look for him.’ In this little story a Christian is able to find the key to the ancient mystery of Christmas. God is in hiding. He waits for his creation to set out toward him, he waits for anew and willing Yes to come about, for love to arise as a new reality out of his creation. He waits for man.”[5]


Conclusion


If we don’t experience seeking Christ in His Humanity, we will never experience Him as the Absolute God. As really man, He is hiding, drawing us after Him so that we can experience the transcendence of self-gift that He experiences in Himself as Son of the Father. Notice, Benedict talks about Herod and “all Jerusalem with him” who did not “see” Christ. “Those who did not see were all those `dressed in fine clothing’ – the refined people (Mt. 11, 8). Those who did not see were the scholars, the Bible experts, the specialists in the interpretation of Scripture, who knew exactly the correct biblical passage but nonetheless understood nothing (Mt. 2, 6). The ones who `saw’ – those were, in comparison to all these renowned people, but `ox and ass:’ the shepherds, the magi, Mary, Joseph. How could it be otherwise? In the stable, where he dwells, there you do not find the `fine’ people; there you will find, of course, ox and ass. And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis… to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in `Jerusalem,’ in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship? Thus in this holy night, the faces of ox and ass are turned toward us questioningly: My people does not understand, do you recognize the voice of your Lord? When we pout the familiar figures in our crèche, we would do well to pray that God would bestow on our heart the kind of simplicity that recognizes the Lord in this Child – just like Francis in Greccio. Then this might happen also to us: everyone returned home, full of rejoicing.”

[1] John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, #12.
[2] SCDF, “Dominus Iesus,” (2000) #13.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Thesis 6 (Ignatius (1986) 38-39.
[4] Josef Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad (1987) 88-91.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Co-workers of the Truth” Ignatius 407.

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