Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An Aside on the Feast of the Assumption

The feast of the Assumption is a perfect example of what Benedict XVI is trying to get across with the first volume of his book: “Jesus of Nazareth.” It is the main theme of his “habilitation” thesis from 1954: “the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it.” (108)

It took 1950 years after the Revelation that is Jesus Christ, for the Church to become conscious of what it had become in that experience of Christ. Pius XII declared in “Munificentissimus Deus" that “the dogma was revealed by God, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, after completing her course of life upon earth, was assumed to the glory of heaven both in body and soul.”[1]

Notice there is no explicit reference (save the ambiguity of Rev. 12) to the assumption of Our Lady in Sacred Scripture and that there was no source mentioning it in the Tradition of the Church until the 6th century.[2] But this does not mean that the Assumption is not integral to the revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Pope’s point is that the Church is a Subject, a Person (with a consciousness), who is the receiver (believer) of the Revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ. He – Christ – is the “act” of revelation. Scripture and Tradition are the “sources” through which this Revelation is communicated, but that neither of them is Revelation. Revelation actually becomes revelation when the receiving Subject, the Church, experiences the Person of Christ by an act of radical obedience and submission of its entire self (faith).

But this Revelation that is objectively given in totality by Jesus Christ as Word and Son of the Father, only subjectively becomes revelation as it is experienced and received by the Church. Notice above that Benedict insists that “where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed.” This is not new. St. Gregory of Nyssa in mid fourth century taught: “The vision of God is offered to those who have purified their hearts. Yet no man has seen God at any time.. These are the words of the great Saint John and they are confirmed by Saint Paul’s lofty thought, in the words: God is he whom no one has seen or can see. He is that smooth, steep and sheer rock, on which the mind can find no secure resting place to get a grip or lift ourselves up. In the view of Moses, he is inaccessible. In spite of every effort, our minds cannot approach him. We are cut off by the words: No man can see God and live. And yet, to see God is eternal life [Jn. 17, 3]. But John, Paul and Moses, pillars of our faith, all testify that it is impossible to see God. Look at the dizziness that affects the soul drawn to contemplating the depths of these statements. If God is life, then he who does not see God does not see life. Yet God cannot be seen… Yet God does raise and sustain our flagging hopes. He rescued Peter from drowning and made the sea into a firm surface beneath his feet. He does the same for us; the hands of the Word of God are stretched out to us when we are out of our depth, buffeted and lost in speculation. Grasped firmly in his hands, we shall be without fear: Blessed are the poure of heart, he says, for they shall see God.” [3]

The point is that the “veil” must be removed from our very selves so that the image reflect the light of the Prototype. By purity of heart we clean the sludge and filth that prohibits reflection of light that comes from us (not as source, but as reflection). This is not “modernism” as subjectivism as Joseph Ratzinger was thought guilty of by Michael Schmaus. Schmaus had “heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, [and] saw in these theses not at all a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”[4] On the contrary, it is the most pronounced realism since we know God, then, not via the mediation of sensible perception or concepts, but immediately in ourselves as “being.”

Notice what Benedict said in Aparecida, Brazil on May 13, 2007: “As a first step, we can respond to this question with another: what is this "reality"? What is real? 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.

The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: 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 all the systems that marginalize God.

“Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God [cf. Mt. 11, 27], only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth” (underline mine).

Conclusion: The dogma of the Assumption is a theological conclusion stemming from the Church’s experience of the Person of Jesus and therefore of Our Lady over the course of 1900 years. The “veil” has finally been removed from us by the faith experience of the saints (not least of whom is St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe) down the centuries until at last it becomes a consciousness which the Magisterium of the Church defines as dogma. The good metal of the image beneath the grime and sludge has appeared and is reflecting the light of Christ, the Sun; and this precisely so that we go to her at the beginning of this third millennium that is destined to be grounded on the Christological anthropology of her Son (finding self by the gift of self), and therefore, not without her.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977” Ignatius (1997) 108.
[2] B. Altaner, ‘Zur Frage der Definibilitat der Assumption B..M.V.,” Theologishce Revue 44 (1948), 129-140, in footnote in J. Ratzinger, Daughter Zion, Ignatius (1983) 72.
[3] De Beatitudinibus: PG 44, 1263-1266.
[4] J. Ratzginer, “Milestones…” op. cit 109.

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