Thursday, May 31, 2007

Trinity Sunday 2007

A Revolution

The Second Vatican Council turned to the Trinity, not as a pious heavenly afterthought, but as the bedrock meaning of reality. Karl Rahner, sadly, amusingly but truly remarked: “We may venture to say that if the doctrine of the Trinity were to be suppressed as being false, a fairly good portion of religious literature would remain nearly unchanged in the aftermath… We may suspect that that in the catechism of mind and heart, as contrasted with the printed catechism, the representation of the Incarnation by Christians would not undergo any change at all if there were no Trinity.”[1]

At the absolute center of the Council, in its most deliberative moment on the meaning of God and man, Gaudium et Spes #24 said: “Furthermore, the Lord Jesus, when he prays to the Father, that all may be one… as we are one’ (Jn. 17:21-22) has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”[2]

The Novelty of the Trinity as Ground and Purification of The Enlightenment

This subjective metaphysical anthropology gives a new understanding of the human person as image and likeness of God. Up to this point, the received metaphysical anthropology has seen man as an object, i.e. an “individual substance of a rational nature” - to which “grace” is added as the category “accident.” This received understanding which seemed to be dominated by an epistemology of concepts and corresponding categories (e.g. substance and accident), tended to created dualisms like supernatural/natural, grace/nature, faith/reason, Church/State. It was ambiguous whether man had a purely natural end in his intrinsic constitution as substance, and then was elevated to a supernatural end by grace, or whether he was intrinsically capax Dei in his very constitution as man. (Note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins: "Chapter One; Man's Capacity for God" #27: 'The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself"). On this reading of man as image of God, man is not understood “from below” but “from above” and hence belongs to the ontological structure of God Himself. Without detriment to the Creator/creature perspective, the operative analogy is now “person” as Prototype/image. This does not mean that the binomial "natural/supernatural" is abolished since without Christ, "nothing." But it de-reifies grace as "thing" (or "supernature") and reads it as God's Personal "Love" that dynamizes the act of self-gift of a being that is intrinsically ordered to God. On this point, Wojtyla said: “The traditional view of the human being as a person... expressed the individuality of the human being as a substantial being with a rational (spiritual) nature, rather than the uniqueness of the subjectivity essential to the human being as a person. Thus the Boethian definition mainly marked out the ‘metaphysical terrain’ – the dimension of being – in which personal human subjectivity is realized, creating, in a sense, a condition for ‘building upon’ this terrain on the basis of experience.”[3] In a word, the tradition gave the notion of being, while the present perspective gave the descriptive phenomenology to glimpse the being of the person as subject.

From a theological perspective which takes precedence in the understanding of the human person, since God Himself did become man, and it was in view of Christ that man was created,[4], the Trinity is the prototype for the meaning of image, and for the meaning of divine Person and human person.

Ratzinger on Person as Relation (Not Substance)

The philosophical category, "Substance," is not an adequate category either for the meaning of person in the Trinity, in Christ, or in man. Then-Josef Ratzinger commented: “At the turn of the fifth century, Christian theology reached the point of being able to express in articulated concepts what is meant in the thesis: God is a being in three persons. IN this context, theologians argued, person must be understood as relation. According to Augustine and late patristic theology, the three persons that exist in God are in their nature relations. They are, therefore, not substances that stand next to 4each other, but they are real existing relations, and nothing besides. I believe this idea of the late patristic period is very important. In God, person means relation. Relations, being related, is not something superadded to the person, but it is the person itself. In its nature, the person exists only as relation. Put more concretely, the first person does not generate in the sense that the act of generating a Son is added to the already complete person, but the person is the deed of generating, of giving itself, or streaming itself forth. The person is identical with this act of self-donation.

“One could thus define the first person as self-donation in fruitful knowledge and love; it is not the one who gives himself, in whom the act of self-donation is found, but it is this self-donation, pure reality of act. An idea that appeared again in our century in modern physics is here anticipated: that there is pure act-being. We know that in our century the attempt has been made to reduce matter to a wave, to a pure act of streaming. What may be a questionable idea in the context of physics was asserted by theology in the fourth and fifth century about the persons in God, namely, that they are nothing but the act of relativity toward each other. In God, person is the pure relativity of being turned toward the other; it does not lie on the level of substance – the substance is one – but on the level of dialogical reality, of relativity toward the other…. Relation is here recognized as a third specific fundamental category between substance and accident, the two great categorical forms of thought in Antiquity. Again we encounter the Christian newness of the personalistic idea in al its sharpness and clarity. The contribution offered by faith to human thought becomes especially clear and palpable here. It was faith that gave birth to this idea of pure act, of pure relativity, which does not lie on the level of substance, and does not touch or divide substance; and it was faith that thereby brought the personal phenomenon into view.”

This outstanding penetration into another epistemological horizon disclosing another level of Being, the Being of the subjectivity of God, and that of the human person, is not vapid lucubration but grounded in Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. Ratzinger says: “We stand here at the point in which the speculative penetration of Scripture, the assimilation of faith by humanity’s own thought, seems to have reached its highest point; and yet we can notice with astonishment that the way back into Scripture opens precisely here. For Scripture has clearly brought out precisely this phenomenon of pure relativity as the nature of the person. The clearest case is Johannine theology. In Johannine theology we find, for example, the formula, ‘The Son cannot do anything of himself’ (5, 19). However, the same Christ who says this says, ‘I and the Father are one’ (10, 30). This means, precisely because he has nothing of himself alone, because he does not place himself as a delimited substance next to the Father, but exists in total relativity toward him, and constitutes nothing but relativity toward him that does not delimit a precinct of shat is merely and properly its own – precisely because of this they are one. This structure is in turn transferred – and here we have the transition to anthropology – to the disciples when Christ says, ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (15, 5). At the same time he prays ‘that they may be one as we are one’ (17, 11). It is thus part of the existence even of the disciples that man does not posit the reservation of what is merely and properly his own, does to strive to form the substance of the closed self, but enters into pure relativity toward the other and toward God. It is in this way that he truly comes to himself and into the fullness of his own, because he enters into unity with the one to whom he is related.

“I believe a profound illumination of God as well as man occurs here, the decisive illumination of what person must mean in terms of Scripture: not a stance that closes itself in itself, but the phenomenon of complete relativity, which is, of course, realized in its entirety only in the one who is God, but which indicates the direction of all personal being. The point is thus reached here at which … there is a transition from the doctrine of God into Christology and into anthropology.”

The Social Doctrine of the Church

Trinitarian Derivative

This Trinitarian understanding of the human person has become the metaphysical center for the entire social doctrine of the Church and human sexuality. The anthropological formulation for the Christological and Trinitarian meaning of person has been – as we have seen – Gaudium et Spes #24. That anthropological formula: “man, the only earthly being God has made for itself, finds himself only by the sincere gift of self," issues into the two major principles of social doctrine: the principle of solidarity, and the principle of subsidiarity. “By virtue of the first, man with his brothers is obliged to contribute to the common good of society at al its levels. Hence the Church’s doctrine is opposed to all the forms of social or political individualism.

“By virtue of the second, neither the state nor any society must ever substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and of intermediate communities at the level on which they can function, nor must they take away the room necessary for their freedom. Hence, the Church’s social doctrine is opposed to all forms of collectivism" ("Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation" #73).

To conclude, John Paul II said in Centesimus Annus: “This human person is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission… the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption.

“This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church’s social doctrine.”

[1] K. Rahner, “Il Dio Trino come fondamento originario e trascendente della storia della salvezza,” in Mysterium Salutis 3, Brescia 1969, 404 in Bruno Forte “The Trinity As History,” Alba House (1989) ftn. 1 on p. 3.
[2] Cf. Lk. 17, 33.
[3] K. Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 212.
[4] Cf. footnote 20 to #22 of Gaudium et Spes: Cf. Rom. 5, 14; Cf. Tertullian, De carnis resurrectione, 6: “For in all the form which was moulded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who to be:” PL 2, 282, 47, p. 33, 1. 12-13.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 444-445.
[6] Ibid 445
[7] John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus” #53,

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pentecost 2007

After the Resurrection, Jesus enjoins the apostles that “repentance and remission , and still do not understand. As proof, they “bof sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24, 47). “And I send forth upon you the promise of my Father. But wait here in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24, 49). However, they still being afraid "began to ask him, saying, ‘Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1, 6).

The Kingdom of God: “A Person”

But what is the kingdom? Benedict, in his new “Jesus of Nazareth” offers the mind of Origin, the Greek Alexandrian Father of the Church: “The basic idea is clear: The ‘Kingdom of God’ is not to be found on any map. It is not a kingdom after the fashion of worldly kingdoms; it is located in man’s inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space.”[1] He later says in that inner space, “kingdom of God means ‘dominion of God,’ and this means that his will is accepted as the true criterion. His will establishes justice, and part of justice is that we give God his just due and, in so doing, discover the criterion for what is justly due among men.”[2] Ultimately, the Kingdom of God becomes present “now” insofar as each of us converts from self to make the gift of self and so become another Christ. As Christ, we have come to do the will of the Father in obedience even to the Cross. The Kingdom, then, is not a theocratic structure but “a person, with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.”[3] “To pray for the Kingdom of God is to say to Jesus: Let us be yours, Lord! Pervade us, live in us; gather scattered humanity in your body, so that in you everything may be subordinated to God and you can then hand over the universe to the Father, in order that ‘God may be all in all’ (1` Cor. 15, 28).”[4] This does not offend against becoming and being one’s true self, and the secularity of life. Rather, on the contrary, it establishes secularity, since the free act of self gift to Christ in the act of faith is the establishment of the (relative) autonomy (theonomy) of the human person as citizen and the common good. The kingdom is not at the eschatological end, but now, and growing, in so far as each of us is being transformed into Christ by becoming self-gift to God and to others.

The apostles, still afraid, gather about our Lady in the upper room: “And when they had entered the city, they mounted to the upper room where were staying Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon the Zealot, and Jude the brother of James. All these with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1, 13-14).


“And when the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close, they wre all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a violent wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak…”
Peter had been afraid, as we know, from his flight from the Cross, and from the triple questioning of Christ on the shores of Genesareth where he is asked if he loves with the love of God (agape- diligo). He responds: No. I love only with the poor love of a traitor (philo- amo). As we have seen, this is enough for Christ who enjoins him: “Follow me.”

Now, the Holy Spirit has descended on our Lady again, and now on the Apostles (including Mathias). Before the same crowd that he feared just weeks before and fled, and the same Sanhedrin that had crucified Christ, “Peter, standing up with the Eleven, lifted up his voice and spoke out opt them’ Men of Judea and all you who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words… Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved by God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did through him in their midst of you, as you yourselves know… God has raised him up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, because it was not possible that he should be held fast by it… ‘Repent and be baptized every on of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2, 14, 24, 38-39).


Romano Guardini comments: “To hear him speak, one would think it was an entirely different person. Not only has he become enlightened, courageous, but his attitude towards Jesus is now that of one bearing witness to ultimate truth personally experienced and proclaimed with authority. Peter does not speak about Jesus, but from him. Because his relationship to the Lord is different from what it was, he himself is different. The questioning, self surrendering seeker has become the proclaiming believer. How” Not by reflection, or private experience; not because after days of confusion and terror he has himself again under control, but because the Holy Spirit prophesied by Christ has literally received ‘of what is mine’ and declared it ‘to you’ (John 16, 15).”[5]

Jesus Christ

Who is Christ? He is the new Moses as prophet. As Moses was unique among the prophets because he uniquely spoke to God face to face, so also, Jesus is the new Moses in an even more unique way: He is God Himself speaking face to face with the Father. Therefore, Jesus knows God experientially from within because He is God. He speaks face to face with the Father because He and the Father are “One.”[6] They are distinct Persons (“The Father is greater than I” [Jn. 14, 29]), and yet “one” in that both are constitutively self-gift to each other. They are one God because both total self-gift, yet they are irreducibly different Persons.

Hence, there is total “self-confidence” in Jesus Christ that what He says is His very Self. What He says, and Who He is are not different realities. He speaks Himself. He is Word. He is Word of the Father. He cannot say other than what He says, because what He says and Who He is are one and the same thing.

In the recent book “Jesus of Nazareth,” Benedict says: “Jesus’ teaching is not the product of human learning, of whatever kind. It originated from immediate contact with the Father, from ‘face-to-face’ dialogue – from the vision of the one who rests close to the Father’s heart. It is the Son’s word. Without this inner grounding, his teaching would be pure presumption. That is just what the learned men of Jesus’ time judged it to be, and they did so precisely because they could not accept its inner grounding, seeing and knowing face-to-face.”[7]

Previously as Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope said: “For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area reserved for an ‘I’ which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be ‘off duty;’ here there is no ‘I’ separate from the work; the ‘I’ is the work and the work ‘is the ‘I.’
“Jesus did not leave behind him (again as the faith expressed I the Creed understood it) a body of teaching that could be separated from his ‘I,’ as one can collect and evaluate the ideas of great thinkers without going into the personalities of the thinkers themselves. The Creed offers no teachings of Jesus; evidently no one even conceived the – to us – obvious idea of attempting anything like this, because the operative understanding pointed in a completely different direction. Similarly, as faith understood the position, Jesus did not perform a work that could be distinguished from his ‘I’ and depicted separately. On the contrary, to understand him as the Christ means to be convinced that he has put himself into his word. Here there is no ‘I’ (as there is with all of us) which utters words; he has identified himself so closely with his word that ‘I” and word are indistinguishable: he is word. In the same way, to faith, his work is nothing else than the unreserved way in which he merges himself into this very work; he performs himself and gives himself; his work is the giving of himself.”

In passing, this is the reason for the name “Jesus Christ.” There is no “neutral” humanity of Jesus that is “in” the divinity or parallel to the divinity of who He is. The complete and total humanity of Christ is the humanity of the divine Person Himself. The humanity doesn’t function. The divine Person functions with the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. All actions are the actions of a Person. That Person is a divine Person. The actions are totally human, but the humanity doesn’t perform the actions. The divine Person does. Therefore, whatever Christ does humanly is the action of a divine Person. His free human will totally coincides with the divine will because both wills are wills of the same Person. They are really ontologically distinct wills (otherwise He would not have been truly man as testified to by the Council of Ephesus, and Mary would not have been the mother). But the two wills are personally one.

Hence, Jesus is Christ, “a unity which conceals the experience of the identity of existence and mission. In this sense one can certainly speak of a ‘functional Christology:’ the whole being of Jesus is a function of the ‘for us,’ but the function too is – for this very reason – all being.”[9] Ratzinger concludes: “The person of Jesus is his teaching, and his teaching is he himself. Christian faith, that is, faith in Jesus as the Christ, is therefore truly ‘personal faith.’ What this means can really be understood only from this angle. Such faith is not the acceptance of a system but the acceptance of this person who is his word; of the word as person and of the person as word.”[10]

Peter: “From” Christ, Not “About” Christ…

So also, as Guardini says, Peter is not talking about Christ, but speaking from Christ. The humanity of Peter has been dynamized by the infusion of the Holy Spirit that is forming Christ in him. He speaks from the experience of being another Christ. What Peter is doing now on Pentecost is what we are empowered to do by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Orders. Peter speaks with this authority that comes from the Spirit who is the personification of this self-giftedness of Person to Person of Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is the Person-Gift of both Father and Son, and thus the one who forms Christ in us. John Paul II said: “It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons, and that through the Holy Spirit. God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love. He is Person-Love. He is Person-Gift. Here we have an inexhaustible deepening of the concept of person in God, which only divine Revelation makes known to us.”[11]

On the occasion of Pentecost, St. Josemaria Escriva wrote:

“Come, Oh Holy Spirit! Enlighten my understanding so as to know your commands: strengthen my heart against the attacks of the enemy: inflame my will…

I have heard your voice, and I don’t want to harden myself and resist, saying: “Later…, Tomorrow. Nunc coepi! Now I begin! Since perhaps tomorrow may not come for me.

Oh, Spirit of Truth and of Wisdom, Spirit of understanding and counsel, Spirit of joy and peace!: I want what you want, I want it because you want it, I want it as you want it, I want it when you want it…”


“Now they who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2, 41). And after the healing of the paralytic at the Temple gate, they are taken to the Sanhedrin, the same one crucifying Christ, where Peter says: “Be it known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead, even in this name does he stand here before you, sound. This is ‘The stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the corner stone. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4, 10-11).

The Sanhedrin, summoning them, “charged them not to speak or to teach at all in the name of Jesus.

“But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’ But they, after threatening them, let them go, not finding any way of punishing them, because of the people; for all were glorifying what had come to pass”
(Acts 4, 18 -21).

And today?

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 50.
[2] Ibid 146.
[3] John Paul II, “Mission of the Redeemer,” #18.
[4] Joseph Ratzinger… op. cit 147.
[5] R. Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery (199
[6] Jn. 10, 30.
[7] Joseph Ratzinger… op. cit. 7.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity” Ignatius (1990) 149-150
[9] Ibid 150.
[10] Ibid 151.
[11] John Paul II, “Dominum et Vivificantem” #10.
[12] Handwritten note from April, 1934

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sketch of a Radical Epistemology

· There Is No Full Grasp of Reality Without the Experience of God

· There is No Experience of God Without the Experience of Jesus Christ

· Only the Experience of Jesus Christ Makes Knowledge of the World Realist

1) Benedict XVI recently asked: “What is real?”

He then developed the question: “Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems ‘reality’? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of ‘reality’ and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.”[1]

2) Benedict bluntly asks: “Who knows God?” and bluntly answers: “Only God knows God.”

This means that “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” (Jn. 1, 18). It means that Jesus Christ, who was, indeed, felt and seen[2] was also “looked upon and … handled”[3] by the apostles.

This means that only by knowing Jesus Christ Who is God are we able to know the Father Who is the engendering Source of all. And in the act of knowing Jesus Christ, we come to experience and know the reality of ourselves. And in knowing the reality of ourselves, we know the "meaning" of things.

3) How, then, are we to know Jesus Christ experientially? The answer is that now classical response that Cardinal Ratzinger offered in his “Behold the Pierced One:”

“Thesis 3: Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him.

“Let us begin here with a very general matter of epistemology. By nature, knowledge depends on a certain similarity between the knower and the known. The old axiom is that like is known by like. In matters of the mind and where persons are concerned, this means that knowledge calls for a certain degree of empathy, by which we enter, so to speak, into the person or intellectual reality concerned, become one with him or it, and thus become able to understand (intellegere = ab intus legere)….

“In Thesis 1 we saw that prayer was the central act of the person of Jesus and, indeed, that this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls ‘Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand this person by entering into this act of prayer, by participating in it. This is suggested by Jesus’ saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6, 44(. Where there is no Father, there is no Son. Where there is no relationship with God, there can be no understanding of him who, in his innermost self, is nothing but relationship with God, the Father – although one can doubtless establish plenty of details about him [historico-critical method]. Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in hi prayer, which … is an act of love, of self-giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement to reading the Gospels, adding nothing to knowledge of him or even being an obstacle to the rigorous purity of critical knowing. On the contrary, it is the basic precondition if real understanding… is to take place.

“The New Testament continually reveals this state of affairs and thus provides the foundation for a theological epistemology. Here is simply one example: when Ananias was sent to Paul to receive him into the Church, he was reluctant and suspicious of Paul; the reason given to him was this: go to him ‘for he is praying’ (Acts 9. 11). In prayer, Paul is moving toward the moment when he will be freed from blindness and will begin to see, not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. The person who prays begins to see; praying and seeing go together because – as Richard of St. Victor says – ‘Love is the faculty of seeing.’ Real advances in Christology, therefore, can never come merely as the result of the theology of the schools, and that includes the modern theology as we find it in critical exegesis, in the history of doctrine and in an anthropology oriented toward the human sciences, etc. All this is important, as important as schools are. But it is insufficient. It must be complemented by the theology of the saints, which is theology from experience. All real progress in theological understanding has its origin in the eye of love and in its faculty of beholding”
[4] (Underline mine).

This theological epistemology explains, for example, Mt 16, 15 and Luke 9, 18 where Jesus formally asks the apostles to give testimony of his identity. Do they really know who He is? After they communicate that those who do not experience Christ by relating with Him to the Father (i.e. they do not experience the self-transcendence involved in being pure relation to the Father, which is replicated in the act of prayer), call Him “John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elias or one of the prophets,” Christ asks them who they say He is. Simon, son of Johnnot yet Peter – answers: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). Christ then changes Simon’s name to Peter (matching His own as “Cornerstone” [Acts 4, 11]) and begins to build the reality of the Church on this confession (self-gift) that transforms individuals into other Christs – relational/prayerful - as “living stones” (1 Peter 2, 5).

4) Realism on every level of knowing is made possible only when there is this fundamental experience of the self as radical relation in the act of faith (which is prayer). The reason is the mediation of subjective sense perception and abstractive knowing in the experience of the material world. There is always a subjective filtering medium in the experience of the material, be it sensible perception itself or abstractive thought. Only the experience of the "I" in the free act of self-transcendence is immediate. Ratzinger comments that “while ‘empirical experience’ is the necessary starting point of all human knowledge, it becomes false if it does not let itself be criticized in terms of knowledge already acquired and so open the door to new experiences.”[5] As Aristotle said: “Nothing in the intellect except through sense,” Plato said, “Nothing in the sense except through the intellect.” Ratzinger expatiates and comments: “The senses experience nothing if no question has been raised, if there is no preceding command from the intellect without which sensory experience can take place. Experimentation is possible only if natural science has elaborated an intellectual presupposition in terms of which it controls nature and on the basis of which it can bring about new experiences. In other words, it is only when the intellect sheds light on sensory experience that this sensory experience has any value as knowledge and that experiences thus become possible.

“The progress of modern science is produced by a history of experiences that is made possible by the repeated critical interaction and reciprocal prolongation of these experiences and by the inner bond of the whole. The question that raised the possibility of constructing, let us say, a computer could not even have been asked in the beginning but became possible only in the continuum of an experiential history of experiences newly generated by thought. Up to this point, the structure of the experience of faith is completely analogous to that of the natural sciences; both have their source in the dynamic link between intellect and senses from which there is constructed a path to deeper knowledge [with the huge difference that the empirical sciences must objectify and literally “kill” the object in order to take it apart for analysis, while faith raises raising the believing subject to the level of the Subject-to-be-known to resonate with it internally as like-experience].”

Ratzinger then gives the supreme example of the existential experience of faith in the case of the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan woman. They speak about the object “water” until she becomes subjectively interested and asks for water from Him. He calls for her to tell the truth about self which is equivalent to a radical self-transcendence. “Bring me your husband.” She answers: “I have no husband.” He remarks that she has said well, and because of this sincerity, He discloses His inner Self to her as the Messiah.

“As we have said, the woman must come first to the knowledge of herself, to the acknowledgement of herself. For what she makes now is a kind of confession: a confession in which, at last, she reveals herself unsparingly. Thus a new transition has occurred – to preserve our earlier terminology, a transition from empirical and experimental to ‘experiential’ experience, to ‘existential experience.’ The woman stands face to face with herself. It is no longer a question now of something but of the depths of the I itself and, consequently, of the radical poverty that is man’s I-myself, the place where this I is ultimately revealed behind the superficiality of the something. From this perspective, we might regard the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman as the prototype of catechesis. It must lead from the something to the I. Beyond every something it must ensure the involvement of man himself, of this particular man. It must produce self-knowledge, an self-acknowledgment so that the indigence and need of man’s being will be evident.”[7]

Two Levels of Experience

Philosophically, we can see two (2) levels of knowing corresponding to two (2) levels of experience. The deeper level is the experience of the self that is the deeper reality of Being that we now in consciousness and conscience. Ratzinger call this “anamnesis” because it is a remembering of who we are as created images of the divine Persons.

The more superficial level is the sensible experience that gives rise to abstract thinking which –as we saw in a Platonic vein (as in the phenomenon of quantum physics) raises new questions and creates new possible paradigms of explanation of what is perceived through the senses.

Karol Wojtyla gave a philosophical-phenomenological account of these two levels of experience in the “Introduction” to “The Acting Person:”

“The inspiration to embark upon this study came from the need to objectivize that great cognitive process which at its origin may be defined as the experience of man; this experience, which man has of himself, is the richest and apparently the most complex of all experiences accessible to him. Man’s experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”

Again, this experience of the self is only possible when there is a free, moral act of self-transcendence such as the act of faith and spousal love. Only in this experience of the self is the human intellect enlightened in a fully deployed realism of self, God and “things.”

The large point of Benedict XVI in his “Opening Address for Aparecida Conference” (May 13, 2007)” was “Only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of al the systems that marginalize God.”

Summarily, perhaps we could quote Hans Urs von Balthasar who makes a profound presentation of the epistemological ramifications of knowing Christ (the Father), the self and sensible reality. Keep in mind that the “meaning” of the finite truths of things can be found when they are “embedded” in the background consciousness of the self which situates them.

“Christ, God-made-man, is the manifest truth both of God and of the world, because he upholds the world by is word of power (Heb. 1, 3). Of necessity, then, he is also the place where all the empirically established partial truths, in their barren, alien, disappointing and tedious finitude, are reconciled in the One Truth which, because it is a divine Person, cannot be superseded.”[9]

"The difficulty of accepting that Jesus Christ is the rector truth of all truth is the concreteness of the individual Jesus of Nazareth with, von Balthasar says, “a particular number of utterances, events and anecdotes in salvation history, a particular number of statements, defined by council and popes and to be accepted by faith as true. The Christian is surrounded by an apparently finite world of truths; but, turn as he may, although he can certainly always find new and interesting combinations, he cannot escape this world of truths in which he is a prisoner. A feeling of restriction can undermine his contemplation. Surely a Buddhist, a Taoist, is infinitely freer in his contemplation?> Surely such a person is more at peace, able to turn from wearying multiplicity and enter into the immensity and openness of the One, whereas the Christian can never get beyond the stage of being ‘occupied with many things’? He seems bound to the One Scripture (whereas mankind can show so many other holy words), to the One Church (among so many other communities which are earnestly seeking salvation), and ultimately to the One Redeemer. How ever magnificent figure the latter may be, he is still one among others; eventually his immense historical influence will be exhausted, according to the laws of historical existence and he wil give way to fresh new perspectives. Surely there is something unnatural, both in the way Christians cling rigidly to these historical events and make them absolute, and in the arbitrary spiritualizing which they then apply to them? They seem to find it necessary to subject all other historical events to a symbolic and prophetic style of interpretation too, in order to establish the absolute primacy of the Christian events over all others, including present-day ones.”

“Unless a person’s living and thinking hinges on faith, he is bound to think in this way. It is a temptation which may always afflict the contemplative anew; he will have to fight his way back to faith’s center. He will have to reflect calmly on what is actually gained as a result of the apparent sacrifice of liberalism in Christian spirituality: now, all the isolated truths of nature and supernature, of the cosmos, of history, of the Church, are drawn together in the wealth, the freedom and the mystery of a Beloved Person, who, thought human like ourselves, is not a finite Person, but divine Love itself. This Someone to whom all the individual truths point as to their origin and home is not a mere ‘other’ of whom we could get tired: he is the eternal Thou, and as such (‘non-aliud’) abolishes the dismal chasm of otherness, for he is the rocklike foundation of each individual self. So it is in him, and only in him, that the contemplative movement of all non-Christian religions, i.e., leaving the many behind and losing oneself in the One, the movement from beings to Being, comes to full expression. Now, the One is accessible without our having to leave behind the many, the world (which would otherwise be imperative). All becomes the fragrance of the Unique One, who manifests himself, now appearing, now vanishing, in the many: currimus in odorem unguentorum tuorum. But truth – and the eternal Son describes himself as Truth – is itself a truth of self-surrender, of transparency, leading us forward as it recedes from view: the Son is the way to the Father. He is the Father’s fragrance in the world. He is both ultimate and not ultimate. As God, he is absolute; and yet, as absolute, relative: as the Son who is a relationship proceeding from the Father and returning to him.”[10]

Benedict says this more simply taking the example from Scripture. He offers the scene of the encounter of Nathanael to whom “Philip had said that he had 'found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth'" (John 1:45).

As we know, Nathanael posed a weighty prejudice to him: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46a). This expression is important for us. It allows us to see that, according to the Jewish expectations, the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village, as was the case of Nazareth (cf. also John 7:42). At the same time, however, it shows the freedom of God, who surprises our expectations, manifesting himself precisely there, where we least expect him. Moreover, we know that, in reality, Jesus was not exclusively "from Nazareth," but that he was born in Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Nathanael's objection, therefore, had no value, as it was founded, as often happens, on incomplete information. Nathanael's case suggests to us another reflection: In our relationship with Jesus, we must not only be content with words. Philip, in his reply, presents a significant invitation to Nathanael: "Come and see" (John 1:46b). Our knowledge of Jesus is in need above all of a living experience: Another person's testimony is certainly important, as in general the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or several witnesses. But we ourselves must be personally involved in an intimate and profound relationship with Jesus. In a similar way, the Samaritans, after having heard the testimony of the compatriot whom Jesus had met at Jacob's well, wished to speak directly with him and, after that conversation, they said to the woman: "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world" (John 4:42). Returning to the scene of the vocation, the evangelist tells us that, when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: "Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him" (John 1:47). It was praise that recalls the text of a psalm: "Happy those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2), but which arouses Nathanael's curiosity, who, surprised, replies: " How do you know me?" (John 1:48a). Jesus' answer at first is not understood. He said to him: "Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree" (John 1:48b). Today it is difficult to realize with precision the meaning of these last words. According to what the specialists say, it is possible that, given that at times the fig tree is mentioned as the tree under which the doctors of the law sat to read and teach the Bible, he is alluding to that type of occupation carried out by Nathanael at the moment of his calling. Anyway, what counts most in John's narration is the confession of faith that Nathanael professes at the end in a limpid way: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). Although it does not reach the intensity of Thomas' confession with which John's Gospel ends: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28), Nathanael's confession has the function to open the terrain to the fourth Gospel. In the latter a first and important step is taken on the path of adherence to Christ. Nathanael's words present a double and complementary aspect of Jesus' identity: He is recognized both by his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the only-begotten Son, as well as by his relationship with the people of Israel, of whom he is called King, an attribution proper of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either of these two elements, since if we only proclaim the heavenly dimension of Jesus we run the risk of making him an ethereal and evanescent being, while if we only recognize his concrete role in history, we run the risk of neglecting his divine dimension, which is his proper description.”[11]

[1] Benedict XVI’s Opening Address for Aparecida Conference “Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!” May 13, 2007, #3.
[2] Lk. 24, 38-43.
[3] I Jn. 1, 1.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One, Ignaitus (1984) 25-27.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “The Anthropological Element in Theology,” in Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius (1987) 348
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid 354.
[8] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” D. Reidel Publishing Company Dordrecht (1979) 3.
[9] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Prayer,” Ignatius (1986 [1955 Verlag]) 63.
[10] Ibid 66-67.
[11] VATICAN CITY, OCT. 4, 2006 ( Address by Benedict XVI at the General Audience, dedicated to present the figure of the Apostle Bartholomew.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Days Before the Ascension

Sermon by Saint Leo the Great

“Beloved, the days which passed between the Lord’s resurrection and his ascension were by no means uneventful; during them great sacramental mysteries were eventful; during them great sacramental mysteries were confirmed, great truths revealed. In those days the fear of death with all its horrors was taken away, and the immortality of both body and soul affirmed. It was then that the Lord breathed on all his apostles and filled them with the Holy Spirit; and after giving the keys of the kingdom to blessed Peter, whom he had chosen and set above all the others, he entrusted him with the care of his flock.

“During these days the Lord joined two of his disciples as their companion on the road, and by chiding them for their timidity and hesitant fears he swept away all the clouds of our uncertainty. Their lukewarm hearts were fired by the light of faith and began to burn within them as the Lord opened up the Scriptures. And as they shared their meal with him, their eyes were opened in the breaking of bread, opened far more happily to the sight of their own glorified humanity than were the eyes of our first parents to the shame of their sin.

“Throughout the whole period between the resurrection and ascension, God’s providence was at work to inset this one truth before their eyes, that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was truly born, truly suffered and truly died, blessed apostles together with all the others had been intimidated by the catastrophe of the cross, and their faith in the resurrection had been uncertain; but now they were so strengthened by the evident truth that when their Lord ascended into heaven, far from feeling any sadness, they were filled with great joy.

“Indeed that blessed company had a great and inexpressible cause for joy when it saw man’s nature rising above the dignity of the whole heavenly creation, above the ranks of angels, above the exalted status of archangels. Nor would there be any limit to its upward course until humanity was admitted to a seat at the right hand of the eternal Father, to be enthroned at last in the glory of him to whose nature it was wedded in the person of the Son.

Guardini on “the mysterious lingering on earth after the Resurrection” and the Ascension.

“It might be asked: Why this mysterious lingering on earth after the Resurrection? Why didn’t the Lord return home directly? What was happening during those forty days?

“Let us for a moment suppose that the Resurrection and the period afterwards had been only offshoots of morbid religious experience, legend or myth – what would those days have looked like? Doubtless, they would have been filled with demonstrations of the liberated one’s power; the hunted one, now omnipotent, would have shattered his enemies; he would have blazed from temple altars, would have covered his followers with honors, and in these and other ways, have fulfilled the longings of the oppressed. He would also have initiated the disciples into the wonderful mysteries of heaven, would have revealed the future, the beginning and end of all things. But nothing of all this occurs. No mysteries are revealed; no one is initiated into the secrets of the unknown. Not one miracle, save that of Christ’s own transfigured existence and the wonderful fish-catch which is only a repetition of an earlier event. What does happen? Something completely unspectacular, exquisitely still: the past is confirmed. The reality of the life that has been crosses over into eternity. These days are the period of that transition.

“And we need them for our faith; particularly when we evoke the great images of the eternal Christ throning at his Father’s right, coming upon the clouds to judge the living and the dead, ruling the Church and the souls of the faithful growing from the depths of God-summoned humanity ‘…to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4, 13). Such images place us in danger of losing the earthly figure of the Lord. This must not happen. Everything depends on the eternal Christ’s remaining also Jesus of Nazareth, who walks among us until the day when all things will be enfolded in eternity; on the blending of borderless spirit with the here and now of the process of salvation. In the Christ of the Apocalypse one vision holds this fast: the Lamb standing ‘as if slain’ but alive (Apoc. 5, 6; 1, 18). Earthly destiny entered into eternity. Once and forever, death has become lasting life. But there is a danger that this truth dangle in space, enigmatic as a rune on an ancient stone. This period of transition deciphers the rune, gives us the key to the parable: All that has been remains in eternal form. Every word Jesus ever spoke, every event during his lifetime is fixed in unchangeing reality, then and now and forever. He who is seated on the throne contains the past transfigured to eternal present.”

[1] Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” Henry Regnery Co. (1954) 420-422.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ascension 2007

The Gnostic Scandal
Guardini confronts the Initial Scandal of the Gnostic Mind: Is there matter in God? Does God have a body?

“To the question: What have we to do with the spiritualism of Gnostics” – the answer is: A great deal!”[1] Gnosticism is a rationalism that splits reality into hermetically sealed dualisms such as compartmentalized spirit and matter. In the light of that, Guardini asks:

“Who is God? The supreme Spirit, and so pure, that the angels by contrast are `flesh’! He is the Endless, Omnipotent, Eternal, All-inclusive One in the simplicity of his pure reality. The Unchanging One, living in himself, sufficient unto himself.”[2]

And in view of the revelation of Jesus Christ asks:

“What possible use could he have for a human body in heaven? … Why must we also believe that this piece of creation is assimilated into the eternity of God’s existence? What for? A bit of earthliness lost and caught up into the tremendousness of eternity? Why doesn’t the Logos shake the dust from him and return to the pure clarity of his free divinity?”[3]

Guardini then asks:

But then what manner of God is this, with whom Resurrection, Ascension and throning on his right hand are possible?”

And he answers:

“Precisely the kind of God who makes such things possible! He is the God of the Resurrection, and we must learn that it is not the Resurrection that is irreconcilable to him, but part of our thinking that is irreconcilable to the Resurrection, for it is false.”

He concludes:

“If we take Christ’s figure as our point of departure, trying to understand from there, we find ourselves faced with the choice between a completely new conception of God and our relation to him.”

“We must also completely reform our idea of humanity, if it is to fit the mould Christ has indicated. We can no longer say: man is as the world supposes him to be; therefore it is impossible that he throne at God’s right, but: since Revelation has revealed that the Son of Man does throne at God’s right, man must be other than the world supposes him. We must learn that God is not only `supreme Being,’ but supremely divine and human Being; we must realize that man is not only human, but that the tip of his essence reaches into the unknown, and receives its fulfillment in his Resurrection.”[4]

Josef Ratzinger on the Ascension:

“What, then, is the meaning of Christ’s ‘ascension into heaven’? It expresses our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. Heaven is not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater, something that requires far more audacity to assert: Heaven means that man now has a place in God.”

“The basis for this assertion is the interpenetration of humanity and divinity in the crucified and exalted man Jesus. Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God’s abiding openness to all human beings. Thus Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven; heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, ‘ascension into heaven’ can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.”

The word “interpenetration” is of major importance. It is contrasted with the word “parallel” that is the assumed to be the way the divine and human natures are related in Christ. This latter understanding has had the most profound impact on the way we understand the relation of the divine and the human, be it supernatural/natural, grace/nature, faith/reason, church/state and priest/layman. The clarification of this word “interpenetration” is of maximal importance in the most practical affairs in these seemingly irresolvable dualisms. Consider that if Christ is God, and the revelation of the meaning of man, then the alignment and relation of the divine and human in Christ will determine the meaning “human” in life, thought, the political and economic order and priesthood.

To get it right, Ratzinger (following Von Balthasar) insists on the need to cap off Christology not with Chalcedon in 451, but with Constantinople III in a.d. 680-681. He says:

“It is common enough for the theological textbooks to pay scant attention to the theological development which followed Chalcedon. In many ways one is left with the impression that dogmatic Christology comes to a stop with a certain parallelism of the two natures in Christ. It was this same impression that led to the divisions in the wake of Chalcedon. In fact, however, the affirmation of the true humanity and the true divinity in Christ can only retain its meaning if the mode of the unity of both is clarified. The Council defined this unity by speaking of the `one Person’ in Christ, but it was a formula which remained to be explored in its implications. For the unity of divinity and humanity in Christ which brings `salvation’ to man is not a juxtaposition but a mutual indwelling. Only in this way can there be that genuine `becoming like God,’ without which there is no liberation and no freedom.

“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.".

The impass in the 200 years after Chalcedon in resolving the relation of the divine and human nature in Christ was due to borrowing a static understanding of “nature” from Greek metaphysics whereby the notion of freedom would be confined to the notion of “choice.” The key to understanding this consists in the critical turn that defines the entire theology/philosophy of then-Joseph Ratzinger, to wit: the experience and consciousness of the human person along the same lines as the divine Persons, i.e. relationality. To be = to be in relation. This lifts us out of the epistemology of sensation --> abstraction into the epistemology of the experience of the “I” in the moment of self-transcendence-self-gift. We are here talking about two levels of experience: one on the level of the external senses; the other, on the level of the “I” in the moment of self-determination. This latter is a “deeper” (because unmediated by sense or concept) experience of Being than experience of sensible being. In this non-mediated contact of the “I” with itself in the moment of existential action, freedom is not primarily choice but as self-mastery and self-determination. One experiences deciding about oneself rather than simply being necessitated between the poles of stimulus and response. If one makes the gift of self in obedience as in faith, or self-gift as in spousal love, then one experiences being-in-relation. This is a distinct experience from sensation with a distinct metaphysics that is not equal to, but transcending the notion of in-itself-substance (that has dominated thought since the Ionian philosophy of the 6th century B.C. that was in contact with Jewish faith at the time of the Exile).

Ratzinger studied Constantinople III and found there that the human and divine “wills” in Christ are irreducible as metaphysically distinct (divine and human) but since they are both wills of the same Person of the Logos, they are one personal will since it is the not the will that wills, but the Person. Voila the key metaphysical error that has plagued us for centuries and left us with the conundra of the dualisms that most practically beset us. To wit: It is the same Person who wills with the human and the divine will. Hence, they are one in the Subject although they are ontologically irreducible. Hence again, instead of the word “parallel” that would explain the previous explanations in terms of “natures,” we have the term “compenetration” that points to the mystery of the Incarnation in the one Person.

Consider Ratzinger again on this:

“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.”[7]

Ascension: Presence, not Absence


“(T)he disciples returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’ (Lk 24, 52). They knew that what had occurred was not a departure; if it were, they would hardly have experienced ‘great joy.’ No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This event gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive; that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that the door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.

“For the disciples, then, the ‘ascension’ was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rather his new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. This is why Johannine theology for practical purposes identifies the Resurrection and the return of Christ (e.g., 14, 18 ff.); with the resurrection of Jesus, by reason of which he is now with his disciples forevermore, his return has already begun.”

Presence as “Word”

“That Luke did not have an essentially different understanding of the situation is again clear from today’s reading. In it Christ rebuffs the disciples’ question about the restoration of the kingdom and instead tells them that they will receive the Holy Spirit and be his, Jesus,’ witnesses to the ends of the earth. Therefore they are not to remain staring into the future or to wait broodingly for the time of his return. No, they are to realize that he is ceaselessly present and even that he desires to become ever more present through their activity inasmuch as the gif of the Spirit and the commission to bear witness, preach, and be missionaries are the way in which he is now already present. The proclamation of the Good News everywhere in the world is – we may say ion the basis of this passage – the way in which, during the period between the Resurrection and the second coming, the Lord gives expression to his royal rule over all the world, as he exercises his lordship in the humble form of the world.

“Christ exercises his power through the powerlessness of the word by which he calls human beings to faith.

“If I Go, I Will Send Him To You”

The way that Christ continues to be present in the most real way consists in each of us becoming Christ. This is the reason for the sending of the Spirit. The profound truth is that Christ is the meaning of man as prototype. Gaudium et Spes #22 reads: “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 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.” The footnote to point on Tertullian reads: “For in all the form which was moulded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who to be.” Since the Being of Christ as Logos is total relationality to the Father, and the Council has formulated that relationality in Gaudium et Spes #24 as “man, the only earthly being that God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself,” when the human person makes that sincere gift of self, he begins to be transformed in ipse Christus. The Christological Gestalt of the transformation of man into Christ is the radical relationality of self-gift.

Since man without Christ can do nothing – nihil posse - , the Ascension to the Father involves the sending of the Spirit Who, in Himself, is Person-gift. It is the Spirit Who gives us the power and the act of self-giving and transforms us into Christ Himself, Who then, in turn, continues to be present “disguised as us” in the midst of secular society. Concerning the physiognomy of the Spirit, John Paul II wrote:
“It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons, and that through the Holy Spirit, God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love. He is Person-Love. He is Person-Gift. Here we have an inexhaustible treasure or the reality and an inexpressible deepening of the concept of person in God, which only divine Revelation makes known to us.”[10]

And consider this: If the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and if the Son, ascended to throne at the right hand of the Father is the Incarnate Logos Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit proceeds as “spirated” from the very Body of Jesus Christ. The total immateriality of the Person of the Spirit proceeds from the matter of the Son. This boggles the Gnostic imagination and demands that we rethink our understanding of the Incarnation and the meaning of the material world.


Secularity refers to the freedom of autonomy of the human will of the Christ. That human will is perfected in its human freedom by becoming the will of the divine Person-Subject of the Logos Who exercises it. Hence, "The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom."[11] Secularity is that freedom of autonomy that we exercise as baptized into Christ’s Person, and therefore into His freedom. We are also called to personally master-ourselves as the supreme exercise of freedom, in order to get possession of ourselves to conform to the truth of the human person in Christ, and thus to make the gift. Such exercise of freedom is the meaning of “secularity.” See Gaudium et Spes #36 and “Christifideles laici” #15.

This presence of Christ after the Ascension will be overwhelmingly “secular” (that is not secularism which is equal to atheism: there is not God). Most recently in his “Opening Address for Aparecida Conference,” Benedict XVI remarked:

“This political task [creating political and economic structures] is not the immediate competence of the Chruch. Respect for a healthy secularity – including the pluralism of political opinions – is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Chruch is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identity with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that s the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life: they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice."[12]

The Gift of Self: Exaltation on the Cross

“For John… the mystery of Good Friday, of Easter, and of Christ’s Ascension form but a single mystery. The cross has a second, mysterious dimension: it is the royal throne from which Christ exercises his kingship and draws the human race to himself and into his wide-open arms (cf. Jn. 3, 14; 8, 28; 12, 32-33). Christ’s royal throne is the cross; his exaltation takes the form of what seems to the outsider the extreme of disgrace and humiliation."

[1] R. Guardini, The Lord, Regnery (1954) 412.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. 413.
[4] Ibid 413.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 63.
[6] Ratzinger comments: “The central distinction which is fundamental to the Council (and which has received scant attention up to now) was worked out by Maximus the Confessor: he distinguishes the Thelema Physikon which belongs to the naturae and thus exists separately in Christ’s godhead and manhood, from the `gnomic’ thelema `which is identical with the liberum arbitrium and pertain to the person; in Christ it can only be a single thelema, since he subsists in the divine Person’ (Beck 41). Thus `much that had earlier been regarded as Monophysite… could be taken into spiritually’ (Beck 43). Once this basic idea of Constantinople III, which is central to Neo-Chalcedonian Christology, based on Pannenberg, are futile, resting on a misunderstanding. In Theo. Berichte 2, 29, Wiederkehr speaks of the `symmetrical path of the two-natures doctrine’ under the influence of the `two wills’ decision and thinks that it resulted from the idea `of an internal Christological dialogue… between a divine and a human nature.’ Thus he can rightly object that `there is nothing of this in the Jesus of the synoptics.’ `As far as the man Jesus is concerned, his dialogue partner is the Father, not his own self in his divine nature and person.’ This assertion, which he opposes to Neo-Chalcedonism, is in fact precisely the view of Constantinople III, except that the latter works out its ontological and existential structure very much more thoroughly than Widerkehr. Pannenberg (Jesus, God and Man, 1968) formulates it thus: “`Person’ is a relational concept, and, because the relation of Jesus to the Father in his dedication to him is identical with the eternal Person of the Son of God’ (339). It seems to me, if I read him correctly, that Pannenberg too fails to see that he is thinking along the same lines as Constantinople III (and Maximus the Confessor). In fact he is concentrating rather on the dispute with Leontius of Byzantium. From this point of view… etc., etc.
[7] Josef Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad (1987) 88-91.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 64.
[9] Idem.
[10] John Paul II, “Dominum et Vivificantem” #10.
[11] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor” #85.
[12] Benedict XVI, “Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!” Aparecida, Brazil, May 13, 2007, 4.