Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Prologue: Walker Percy

“WHY DOES MAN feel so sad in the twentieth century?

Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making over the world for is own use?

Why has man entered on an orgy of war, murder, torture, and self-destruction unparalleled in history and in the very century when he had hoped to see the dawn of universal peace and brotherhood?

Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments?

Why do people often feel so bad in good environments that they [prefer bad environments?

Why does a man often feel better in a bad environment?

Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, New Jersey, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon?

Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?

Why have more people been killed in the twentieth century than in all other centuries put together?

Why is war man’s greatest pleasure?

Why is man the only creature that wages war against its own species?

What would man do if war were outlawed?

Why is it that the only time I ever saw my uncle happy during his entire life was the afternoon of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?

* * * *

Why is it that a man riding a good commuter train from Larchmont to New York, whose needs and drives are satisfied, who has a good home, loving wife and family, good job, who enjoys unprecedented ‘cultural and recreational facilities,’ often feels bad without knowing why?

Why is it that if such a man suffers a heart attack and, taken off the train at New Rochelle, regains consciousness and finds himself in a strange place, he then comes to himself for the first time in years, perhaps in his life, and begins to gaze at his own hand with a sense of wonder and delight?

What is the difference between such a man, a commuter who feels bad without knowing why, and another commuter who feels bad without knowing why but who begins to read a book about man who feels bad without knowing why?

Why does it make a man feel better to read a book about a man like himself felling bad?

Why was it that Jean-Paul Sartre, sitting in a French café and writing Nausea, which is about the absurdity of human existence and the nausea of life in the twentieth century – why was he the happiest man in France at the time?

Why is it harder to study a dogfish on a dissecting board in a zoological laboratory in college where one has proper instruments and a proper light than it would be if one were marooned on an island and, having come upon a dogfish on the beach and having o better instrument than a pocketknife or bobby pin, one began to explore the dogfish?

Why is it difficult to see a painting in a museum but not if someone should take you by the hand and say, ‘I have something to show you in my house,’ and lead you through a passageway and upstairs into the attic and there show the painting to you?

What would you do if a stranger came up to you on a New York street and, before disappearing into the crowd, gave you a note which read: ‘I know your predicament: it is such and such. Be at the southeast corner of Lindell Boulevard and Kingshighway in St. Louis at 9 a.m., April 16 – I have new of the greatest importance?’”

What Walker Percy is presenting the above is what has been called “alienation” which is “The estrangement of the existing self,”[2] and this precisely because we have staked everything “on the objective-empirical.” He points out that “It does happen that the Dasein or existing self characteristically reverses objective-empirical sociological categories and discovers in them not the principle of it health but the root of its alienation.” What he means is the everything in the world of sense has been explained – except me. My subjectivity has been left out as the other side of the St. Andreas fault line of the Enlightenment dualism and dismissed.

The suffering of it is unspeakable since the meaning of everything that is perceived through sensation is embedded in the context of the experience and consciousness of who I am. And since I am left alone and presumed to be happy because I have every sensible empirical need satisfied, my “I,” which has been revealed to be intrinsically and constitutively relational, withers into non-existence. This is the suffering of always, but particularly of the present moment.


It seems there are two kinds of suffering: 1) from disintegration; 2) from re-construction. In our present state as finite, unfinished creatures, the experience seems to be that it’s necessary to suffer one or the other. There is no neutrality or state of stasis in which one can be idle and not choose. We are a work either in progress or in regress.

The deep reason for this tension is our ontological architecture as relation which we know conceptually from the revelation of the Trinity and the theological/ philosophical elaboration of the divine Person as pure relations. The Father is not a substance engendering the Son but the very act of engendering the Son. Thus if there were no Son engendered, there would be no Father. The reverse holds for the Son who obeys and glorifies the Father as the very act of who He is. The very Being of the son is the act of obeying and glorifying. When incarnated, that act that is Person translates a prayer. The Person of the Son Incarnate is prayer. Benedict XVI affirmed that “we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer.”[3]

This relationality is further revealed as the unique kind of love that God is: self-gift, “God is Love” (1 Jn. 4, 9). That is to say, St. John testifies that God does not love as the action of a Substance, but rather that the very Being of God is Love. The divine Persons are not substances in any Greek philosophical sense, nor are the Three in relation a Substance but a “Communio.” Each is distinct as Person yet constitutively connected to the Others. And since this is the way God is, it must be the way we are. If God is Love as self-gift, then we, as images, must also be a finite version of Love as self-gift.

Joy will be the subjective state of one who achieves living in this state of giftedness. Suffering will be the subjective state of one who refuses the gift and is reduced to being an individual turned in on self as in the state of sin. Or, as suggested above, suffering comes from the struggle to overcome the potency or idleness of “neutrality” (acedia as lukewarmness) or the damage that the turn back to self has wreaked.

In a word, suffering is the experience, and therefore the consciousness, of the act of turning back on self (the ontological disintegration of the self), as well as the experience and consciousness of the ontological re-building of the self as relation. In his “Salvifici Doloris,” John Paul II wrote: “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 dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.”[4] He goes on: “But in order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love… Love is also the riches source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the why of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.”[5] Sokolowski concurs that “Suffering and the kind of guilt that occurs beyond law do not belong to those things that can be understood by reason or determined by our own initiatives. Such guilt and suffering are mysterious even within the setting of reason and nature.” He goes on to say that "we could never understand it in its causes and nature and reasonableness, because as a tragic event and as suffering it does not enjoy causes, does not have a nature, and is opaque to reason.”[6]

The deep reason why suffering cannot be understood and grasped conceptually is because it is the action of the “I” as another dimension of Being. It is the “I” as either gift or turned back on self. Such an experience is other than sensible perception of individual “things” of which we form concepts. This is a non-mediated experience of the self either as going forth or turned back on itself. Both involve suffering, one with anguish, the other with joy. It is the dimension of Being as relation of which we can only be “conscious” before we become reflective intentionally and form “concepts.” For this reason, suffering is most mysterious, as mysterious as the “I” in relation – or not.


“The Lamb is stronger than the dragon, we could say together with the Book of Revelation”

Benedict XVI has announced the theme for this Lent (2007) to be “Behold the Pierced One.” Given that we are in the midst of a “soft atheism” where God is absent because we do not experience Him in sensible perception, and therefore have reduced Him – without denying Him outright in a “hard” atheism – to a “hobby,” it is important that we attempt to experience Him in His wounds. The wounds of Christ imply suffering on the part of Christ, and on our part.

If there’s any doubt that religion is a “hobby” as a fill-in relativity, observe the absoluteness of Saturday soccer and basketball (baseball is in the wings) schedules and Sunday lacrosse schedules, the paucity of Sunday observance at Mass, the massive utilization of the contraceptive, the meager availability of the sacrament of Penance, the total fixation on self in the consumption of goods and controlling the dash-board of the cyber world. “Ye shall be as gods”

However, there are issues that must be settled about the suffering God: The first is whether Christ, being God, really suffered; the second is: if He really suffered, how does one reconcile Christ being God as transcendent to the world that He created - and therefore impassible with regard to it - and at the same time suffering because of it?

The nub of the question is whether it is really God Who suffers in Jesus Christ as the protagonist of the suffering, or is it really the humanity of Christ that suffers as an instrument of the divine Person, in which case God does not suffer as God but as man.

Thomas Weinandy makes the case most clearly. He says: “If the Son of God experienced suffering in his divine nature, then it would be God suffering as God in a man. But the Incarnation, which demands that the Son of God actually exists as a man and not just swells in a man, equally demands that the Son of God suffers as a man and not just suffers divinely in a man.. If one wishes to say in truth that the Son of God actually experienced and knew what it was like to be born, eat, sleep, cry, fear, grieve, groan, rejoice, suffer, die, and most all, love as a man, and it seems this is precisely what one does want to say, then the experience and knowledge of being born, eating, sleeping, crying, fearing, grieving, groaning, rejoicing, suffering, dying, and again most of all, loving must be predicated of the Son of God solely and exclusively as a man.”[7]

Weinandy then brings his point home. He describes Christ eating in the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Martha serves carrots. “Jesus ate the carrots. Who was it who ate the carrots? Who was the acting subject? It was the Son of God who ate the carrots. Was he eating the carrots as God or as man? Obviously, he was eating the carrots as man. God as God cannot eat carrots for he does not have teeth, a mouth, a stomach, etc. Lazarus also ate the carrots, but unfortunately he ate a rotten carrot and died of food poisoning. Four days after Jesus returned and raised Lazarus from the dead. Who was it who raised Lazarus from the dead? It was the Son of God who raised Lazarus from the dead. But did he raise Lazarus from the dead as God or as man? At this juncture there is silence among the students. Inevitably the more pious students first break the silence by saying that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead ‘as God.’ I remain silent. Then some brave soul, usually a girl, will hesitantly whisper, almost inaudibly, ‘as man.’ That is precisely the correct answer. Within the Incarnation the Son of God never does anything as God. If he did, he would be acting as God in a man…. All that Jesus did as the Son of God was done as a man – whether it was eating carrots or raising someone from the dead.”[8]

Only Persons Act

Here is the source of confusion with large ramifications. Weinandy asks: “Who was the acting subject? It was the Son of God who ate the carrots. Was he eating the carrots as God or man? Obviously, he was eating the carrots as man. God as God cannot eat carrots for he does not have teeth, a mouth, a stomach, etc.”

It would most instructive to compare this assertion – which is the hub of the Weinandy argument – with Benedict XVI’s Christology taken from Constantinople III (680-681). He excludes any “parallelism” between the divine and the human (which would resolve our dualisms of supernatural/natural, grace/nature, faith/reason, Church/State, ministerial priest/layfaithful) and resolves it into “compenetration” of the human will by the divine Person of the Logos. Benedict says: “The Council [Constantinople III] explains this union [of divine and human] 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.”[9]

He then goes on to insist the human will does not will of itself as in “parallel,” but is the will – “compenetrated” - of the subject who is the Logos Himself. It is the divine Logos willing with a human will that He has appropriated for himself and that is His. Benedict says: “the Logos stoops 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 [read: suffering] of a man into the obedience of the Son…”[10]

Weinandy says that God as man eats the carrots and raises the dead. He will conclude that because He does both as man, God does not suffer as God, but as man. He will say: “If the son of God suffers as man, why does this suffering not affect his divinity given that the Son of God is equally God. Here we enter 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… 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 divine Son of God was deprived, as are we, of human goods which did cause him like us to suffer.”[11]

Weinandy and Benedict XVI are in sharp disagreement on the point. Observe Benedict XVI: “The suffering of Christ, then, was an unshakeable fact; but there is no such thing as a Passion without the passions: suffering presupposes the ability to suffer, the sensibility and its feeling faculty. In the patristic period it was Origen who most profoundly grasped the theme of the suffering God, and who also most straightforwardly declared that this theme cannot reduced to the suffering humanity of Jesus, but that it colors the Christian conception of God himself The fact that the Father allows the Son to suffer constitutes the Father’s own Passion, and this is also the suffering of the Spirit, of whom Paul says that he sighs in us and that, I us and for us, he bears the passion of our longing for the fullness of redemption (Rom. 8, 26 f.) And it was also Origen, moreover, who formulated the normative hermeneutic on the theme of the suffering God: whenever you hear of God’s passions and sufferings, says Origen, you must always relate these to his love. God is a sufferer only because he is first a lover; the theme of the suffering God follows from the theme of the loving God and continually points to it. The decisive step that the Christian concept of God takes beyond that of the ancients is the realization that God is love.”[12]

The key to grasp here is that God is not simply another Being that is great, high and powerful, but that He is radically different from every other type of being. Nay, He is the very meaning of Being such that if He did not create everything else, He would not be less, and having created it all, He is not more. God is not an “it” but an “I.” In fact, God is a Communio of Three “I’s.” The way the Three are is different from the way everything else is.

Therefore, if God reveals Himself to be “Love,” it means that to be = to be for. And when the Logos takes on flesh, He is present as Love amidst a creation of “it,” except for the human person who as image is also “to-be-for.” Benedict shows in “Deus Charitas Est” that this Love is not only Agape but also eros. This means that He is not only self gift (agape) but desire seeking something that He does not yet have, and cannot give it to Himself precisely because He has hard-wired us ontologically to be self-determining and free in the response of our gift to Him. He cannot give us as gift to Himself because that gift must be our autonomous (“theonomous”) act.

This brings us to the attempt at penetrating the meaning of the “Christian Distinction.” It will give us purchase on how the epistemology works such that the “Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face.” [13]Love unchanged or diminished (and hence “impassible”) can suffer precisely as Love when taking the human will of the man Jesus as His own and obey the Father with it – to death. God dies and suffers as Love.

The Christian Distinction

Fr. Robert Sokolowski has put his finger on the key to the question as to how God can be transcendent Creator of the world, and therefore “impassible” (cannot suffer) in the sense of not being able to suffer diminution of Being, while at the same time being part of His creation and suffering in it and for it without ceasing to be Creator and undiminished God.
Sokolowski deploys the phenomenologically achieved “Christian Distinction.” To present it, he describes two different epistemological horizons. The one deals with the sensible world as it is sensibly perceived and conceptualized in abstract thought. The other is the experience of the self in the act of Christian faith.

The Epistemological Horizon Arising From Sensible Experience:

He illustrates these two horizons by confronting the question of God as seen in pagan divinity, and the creating God of Judeo-Christian faith. He remarks: “If we examine pagan thinking about the divine, we do not find the issue of creation raised in the way it is raised in Christianity, nor do we find the understanding of God that is maintained by Christians. In Greek and Roman religions, and in Greek and Roman philosophies, god or the gods are appreciated as the most powerful, most independent and self-sufficient, most unchanging beings in the world, but they are accepted within the context of being.”[14] He explains that “the Olympian gods are understood as particular beings in the world. They are the expression of necessities that men encounter in the world, necessities that men must respect. Zeus, Poseidon, Ares and Aphrodite, the Muses, and Apollo are agents that rule over their particular domains, and they are the causes, the ones responsible, for what happens.”[15]

The large affirmation that he makes is that the pagan gods are “part of the world.” They are the greatest, the most, etc, but they are “within” the sensibly empirical world. For example, “No matter how Aristotle’s god is to be described, as the prime mover or as the self-thinking thought, he is part of the world, and it is obviously necessary that there be other things besides him, whether he is aware of them or not”[16] (underline mine). And again: “Aristotle thus considers the divine to be the best part – but still only a part – of the cosmos; he sees human being as independent of the mythical gods, but still subordinated to necessities in many ways.”[17]

The same applies to Plato for whom “even the One or the Good is taken as ‘part’ of what is: it is the One by being a one over, for, and in many, never by being One only alone by itself…. The divine even in its most ultimate form, is never conceived as capable of being without the world. It is divine by being differentiated from what is not divine and by having an influence on what is not divine. The One of Plato is on the margin of, and in touch with, the many; it lets the many and the variegated be what they are.”[18] (In passing, it might be mentioned that the same does not obtain for the earlier Ionian philosophers such as Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus, etc who were coincident with the experience of the faith of Judaism in the 5th and 6th centuries b.c. at the time of the Exile to Babylon. This is precisely the thesis of Benedict XVI with regard to the cross-semination between Judaic faith and Hellenistic philosophy and their reciprocal influence.)

The Epistemological Horizon Arising From Christian Faith Experience:

The experience of Judeo-Christian faith is fundamentally an experience of the believing self as conscious of being different from the world, although in it. The pagan deity has been expelled from the world such that the believing subject is free to investigate and master it. The creating God is not part of the world, but other than and transcending it. This is true to the point that one must say that if God had not created the world, He would not be less; and having created it, He is not more. God is “other” than the world. Sokolowski says: “Christian theology is differentiated from pagan religious and philosophical reflection primarily by the introduction of a new distinction, the distinction between the world understood as possibly not having exited and God understood as possibly being all that there is, with no diminution of goodness or greatness. It is not the case that God and the world are each separately understood in this new way, and only subsequently related to each other; they are determined in the distinction, not each apart from the other. The Christian distinction between the world and God may receive its precise verbal formulation in a theoretical context, since it is described especially by theologians and philosophers, but the distinction does not emerge for the first time in this theoretical setting. It receives its formulation in reflective thought because it has already been achieved in the life that goes on before reflective thinking occurs. The distinction is lived in Christian life, and most originally it was lived and expressed in the life of Jesus, after having been anticipated, and hence to some extent possessed, in the Old Testament history which Jesus completed.”[19]

Ramifications for Christology

Sokolowski is pointing to a distinction that Benedict (and concomitantly, John Paul II) explains in terms of experience. That is, there are two levels of experience: one on the level of the external senses; the other on the level of the self in moral action. Both are experiences of the real, of Being, and therefore both are empirical. In the latter case, we are not dealing with subjectivism, idealism or relativism. We are dealing with unmediated access to Being.

Since they are two ways in which Being is both [but differently] material sensible thing and the conscious self, they are not in competition. Sokolowski affirmed that “it was not necessary that the human nature of Jesus be diminished and replaced, in part, by the divine. The two natures remain completely what they are. Furthermore, it is not the case that some of the actions of Jesus were divine and not human, like his transfiguration or his miracles or his forgiveness of sins, while other actions were human and not divine, like his becoming tired or hungry or his conversing with other people. All his actions, as well as his being, were integrally human and yet divine, because they were the human actions of a divine agent.”[20]

Only this could give an account of Christ’s assuming the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth – as His own (as in “I [the divine Logos] have come down from heaven, not to do my own [human] will, but the will of him who sent me” [Jn. 6, 38]) – without overpowering it and nullifying it in the divinity. Benedict’s huge interest in the Council of Constantinople III (shared with Hans Urs von Balthasar who went to school on Maximum the Confessor, the protagonist of this council) is the break through insight into what he called the “compenetration” rather than “parallelism” of the human and the divine. That breakthrough consists in explaining the “I have come… not to do my will…” as the divine Subject willing with a human will that is His very own. It is God willing with a human will that is not merely an instrument but His very own personal human will relating in obedience to the will of the Father. Thus the “economic” humanity is rendered “immanent” without losing, nay, rather gaining autonomy and freedom as the perfection of imaging.

In this regard, Benedict said: “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 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 o f 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.” He then cites Jn. 6, 38 and comments: “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 [“compenetrated”] with the will of the Logos. United with the latter, it has become a pure Yes to the Father’s will.”[21] He concludes: “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.”[22]

Rather than nullified, the human will - as the will of the divine Person of the Logos - is perfected in its autonomy and secularity as freely self-determining because the agent and self of the Self-determining is the divine “I.” This is not violation but perfection of man as created in the image of the Trinitarian freedom that is self-gift, not merely the indetermination of choice. In a word, if God is Love, then man must be Love.

Whereas a pagan god is a being of the world (the highest and the most, perhaps), it could not become one with its subjects without competing for ontological space and modality, Sokolowski insists: “God is not himself a competing part of nature or a part of the world. If the incarnation could not take place without a truncation of human nature, it would mean that God was one of the natures in the world that somehow was defined by not being the other natures; it would mean that his presence in one of these other natures, human nature, would involve a conflict and a need to exclude some part or what he is united with.”[23]

The Christian Mutation to the Meaning of Being:

All this points to the person of God in Christ to be another kind of Being: Love. And if the divine Person is some other kind of Being than that which we experience through sensation and thought such as to be being-in-itself - “substance” - and if that Person is revealed to be Love, then it would not be oxymoronic to affirm that if God can Love as self-gift, then God can suffer not merely as man, but in His very Person as God. This is the assessment of Benedict, and seems to be the overall goal of his pontificate, namely, to midwife the Church across this epistemological threshold of experiencing God on the level of God, i.e. Agape. And this means, of course, that man must cross that same threshold of agape that translates as anthropologically as “self-gift.”

This was Benedict’s point at Regensburg. There he said: “The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and declares simply that he is, already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates’ attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: ‘I am.’
“This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Psalm 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in the mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.”

On this “mutual enrichment” Benedict had written in 1968:

“By deciding in favour of the God of the philosophers and logically declaring this God to be the God who speaks to man and to whom one can pray, the Christian faith gave a completely new significance to this God of the philosophers, removing him from the purely academic realm and thus profoundly transforming him. This God who had previously existed as something neutral, as the highest, culminating concept; this God who had been understood as pure Being or pure thought, circling around for ever closed in upon itself without reaching over to man and his little world [Aristotle]; this God of the philosophers, whose pure eternity and unchangeability had excluded any relation with the changeable and transitory, now appeared to the eye of faith as the God of men, who is not only thought of all thoughts, the eternal mathematics of the universe, but also agape, the power of creative love”[24]

Athens and Jerusalem

The collision of faith and reason – or Athens and Jerusalem – took place in Babylon as the collision of the experience of being-in-relation: self-gift, with being-in-itself: substance. The former was accompanied by a pre-conceptual consciousness; the latter with conceptualization. The former was the God of men, i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the latter the God of a non-pagan monotheism: water for Thales, Being for Parmenides, Fire for Heraclitus, etc. The great difficulty in this topic of God as Absolute Being yet as Sufferer is to grasp the kind of Being are we dealing with.

Origen’s Impassible Lover: An Oxymoron?

In the following quote we have in Origen what Benedict called “the normative hermeneutic” on the theme of the suffering God, and Joseph M Hallman remarked that “All authors agree on the uniqueness of this text. It affirms both the possibility of the Logos even before the Incarnation and, in simple direct language, affirms the passibiltiy of the Father.”[25] Origen wrote:

“Something of this sort I would have you suppose concerning the Savior. He came down to earth in pity for human kind, he endured our passions and sufferings before he suffered the cross, and he deigned to assume our flesh. For if he had not suffered he would not have entered into full participation in human life. He first suffered, then he came down and was manifested. What is that passion which he suffered for us? It is the passion of love. The Father himself and the God of the whole universe is ‘long suffering,’ full of mercy and pity’ (Ps. 86, 15). Must he not then, in some sense, be exposed to suffering? So you must realize that in his dealing with men he suffers human passions. ‘For the Lord thy God bore thy ways, even as a man bearers his own son’ (Deut 1, 31). Thus God bears our ways, just as the son of God bears our ‘passions.’ The Father himself is not impassible. If he is besought he shows pity and compassion; he feels, in some sort, the passion of love, and is exposed to what he cannot be exposed to in respect of his greatness, and for us men he endures the passion of mankind.”[26]

Weinandy himself gives a clue how the word “impassible” should be understood in this context, and in that sense Origen is not contradictory but in fact making the first steps in the development of the new metaphysic of Being in God and therefore in man. Weinandy remarks that “The Father is ‘not impassible,’ not in the sense that he changes from not suffering to suffering, but in the sense that, in his unchangeable love, he passionately grieves over his people. The suffering that God endures is not due to a change in his love, but is subsumed by and predicted upon his impassible and unchangeable perfect love. This is why Origen insists that the scripture passages which speak of God’s emotions must be interpreted metaphorically and yet without denying the reality of which they speak. The emotions ascribed to God in the emotional change as is universally the case with humans, but rather they predicate aspects of God’s immutable passionate love for mankind.”[27]

Here, I believe Weinandy’s suggestion correct (yet contradicting his main conclusion). The reality is that God’s very Being is not “substance”[28] but subsistent relation as in Love. This is indeed “impassible” in the sense that it cannot change. God’s Love is unchanging, eternal and faithful. But, it is not unchanging, eternal and faithful as the category “substance” would be. Divine Love is the personal dynamic of engendering Son, glorifying Father and personifying the equal self-gift of the Two. God is not a “thing” as the category “substance” demands. And these “dynamics” of fatherhood, sonship and personification are the very Being of God. To not Love, God would not be God. However, to enter into the being of Jesus of Nazareth as the divine “I” such that the will of Jesus of Nazareth is the will of the Logos, and to take on all the sins of all men (“For our sakes he made him to be sin who knew noting of sin,” 2 Cor. 5, 21), is to create an internal state of the most radical ontological contradiction such that He begins to bleed from the inside. God does not cease to be “impassible” as Love, but Love can be denied, obstructed and suffer without diminishment of Love.

The Logos is indeed “impassible” as God, but as Love, He freely lives out this Love as Gift to taking on all sin as His own, and suffers. His Love is not changed by anything outside of Him, but He exercises it in suffering as a divine Person through the obedience of His human will. John Henry Newman describes this free decision to suffer. In a word, Jesus as God could not be killed. He would have to will to die: “His divine Person was not subject, could not be exposed, to the influence of His own human affections and feelings, except so far as He chose. I repeat, when He chose to fear, He feared; when He chose to be angry, He was angry; when He chose to grieve, He was grieved. He was not open to emotion, but He opened upon Himself voluntarily the impulse by which He was moved. Consequently, when He determined to suffer the pain of His vicarious passion, whatever He did, He did, as the Wise Man says, instanter, ‘earnestly,’ with His might; He did not do it by halves;… He took a body in order that He might suffer; He became man, that He might suffer as man; and when His hour was come, that hour of Satan and of darkness, the hour when sin was to pour its full malignity upon Him, it followed that He offered Himself wholly, a holocaust, a whole burnt-offering; - as the whole of His body, stretched out upon the Cross, so the whole of His soul, His whole advertence, His whole consciousness, a mind awake, a sense acute, a living co-operation, a present, absolute intention, not a virtual permission, not a heart-less submission, this did He present to His tormentors. His passion was an action; He lived most energetically, while He lay languishing, fainting, and dying. Nor did He die, except by an act of the will; for He bowed His head, in command as well as in resignation, and said, ‘Father, into They hands I commend My Spirit;’ He gave the word, He surrendered His soul, He did not lose it.”[29]
Finally, to insist that only subjects, not natures suffer, I re-offer Bernard Lonergan’s “Christ as Subject: A Reply:”[30]

“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.”

John Paul II’s Last Testament: On Suffering - For Love

“Suffering As Love and For Love Consumes Evil”

Recall that when asked “Good Master, what good work shall I do to have eternal life?,” Jesus responded “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good” (Mt 19, 16-17). John Paul II remarked: “Only God can answer the question about what is good, because he is the Good itself.”[31] God alone is good.

Benedict XVI, in his address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, recalled:

“In his last book “Memory and Identity” (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005) he [John Paul II] has left us an interpretation of suffering that is not a theological or philosophical theory but a fruit that matured on his personal path of suffering that he walked sustained by faith in the crucified Lord. This interpretation, which he worked out in faith and which gave meaning to his suffering lived in communion with that of the Lord, spoke through his silent pain, transforming it into an important message.

“Both at the beginning and once again at the end of the book mentioned, the pope shows that he is deeply touched by the spectacle of the power of evil, which we dramatically experienced in the century that has just ended. He says in his text: ‘The evil… was not a small-scale evil. … It was an evil of gigantic proportions, an evil which availed itself of state structures in order to accomplish its wicked work, an evil built up into a system’ (p. 189).

“Might evil be invincible? Is it the ultimate power of history? Because of the experience of evil, for Pope Wojtyla the question of redemption became the essential and central question of his life and thought as a Christian. Is there a limit against which the power of evil shatters? ‘Yes, there is,’ the pope replies in this book of his, as well as in his encyclical on redemption.

“The power that imposes a limit on evil is divine mercy. Violence, the display of evil, is opposed in history – as ‘the totally other’ of God, God’s own power – by divine mercy. The Lamb is stronger than the dragon, we could say together with the Book of Revelation.

“At the end of the book, in a retrospective review of the attack of May 13, 1981, and on the basis of the experience of his journey with God and with the world, John Paul II further deepened this answer.

“What limits the force of evil, the power, in brief, that overcomes it – this is how he says it – is God’s suffering, the suffering of the Son of God on the cross:

“’The suffering of the crucified God is not just one form of suffering alongside others … 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. …The passion of Christ on the cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within. …It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love. …All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation: …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. …Christ has redeemed the world: ‘”By his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53, 5’ (p. 189ff).

“All this is not merely learned theology but the expression of a faith lived and matured through suffering…. (W)e must… do the utmost to ensure that people can discover the meaning of suffering and are thus able to accept their own suffering and to unte it with the suffering of Christ.

“In this way it is merged with redemptive love and consequently becomes a force against evil in the world.

“The response across the world to the pope’s death was an overwhelming demonstration of gratitude for the fact that in his ministry he offered himself totally to God for the world; a thanksgiving for the fact that in a world full of hatred and violence he taught anew love and suffering in the service of others; he shoed us, so to speak, in the flesh, the Redeemer, redemption, and gave us the certainty that indeed evil does not have the last word in the world.”

[1] Walker Percy, “The Message in the Bottle,” The Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus, Giroux (1976) 3-6.
[2] Walker Percy, “The Man on the Train,” Idem 84-85.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
[4] John Paul II, “Salvifici Doloris,” #12.
[5] Ibid #13.
[6] R. Sokolowski, “The God of Faith and Reason,” op. cit. 86.
[7] Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., “Does God Suffer,?” UNDP (2000) 204.
[8] Ibid 205.
[9] J. Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad (1987) 89-90.
[10] Ibid 90.
[11] Weinandy, op. cit. 205.
[12] Ibid 154
[13] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio” #12.
[14] R. Sokolowski, “The God of Faith and Reason,” UNDP (1982) 12.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid 15-16.
[17] Ibid 16.
[18] Ibid 17-18.
[19] Ibid 23.
[20] Ibid 35.
[21] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1986) 38-39.
[22] Ibid 41
[23] Ibid 36
[24] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 99.
[25] Joseph M Hallman, “The Descent of God, Divine Suffering in History and Theology,” Fortress Press (1991) 41.
[26] Origen, “In Ezech. Hom., 6, 6 as in Weinandy’s “Does God Suffer” UNDP (2000) 98-99.
[27] Thomas G. Weinandy, “Does God Suffer?” UNDP (2000) 100.
[28] See Ratzinger’s “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall 1990) 448: “One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms.”
[29] John Henry Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion,” Discourse 16 To Mixed Congregations.
[30] B. Lonergan, “Christ as Subject: A Reply,” Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, University of Toronto Press (1993) 179-180.
[31] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor” #9.
[32] “The Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart” in Towards a Civilization of Love,” Ignatius (1981) 145-163.
[33] R. Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery (1954) 412.
[34] Origen, “Contra Celsum” 4, 14.

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