Sunday, June 29, 2008

Does God Suffer as Person? A Discrepancy

The discrepancy is between the scriptural, existential personalism of Joseph Ratzinger and the abstractive scholasticism of Thomas Weinandy O.P. (seen in other blogs) and F. Ocariz, L. F. Mateo Seco and J. A. Riestra in their “The Mystery of Jesus Christ”[1] The bone of contention is whether God suffers as God, and therefore whether God as Uncreated Absolute can change, or not. Or perhaps, said better, what epistemological theater or horizon is Joseph Ratzinger in and what is that of Weinandy and the authors of “The Mystery of Jesus Christ?”

Ratzinger’s Position

Ratzinger’s overriding insight is the identity of Who divine Person is and what He does; or to be = to be in relation; or, as St. Josemaría Escrivá says it, “being Opus Dei, doing Opus Dei.” The meaning of being is taken not from sensible perception and abstracted thought from the world in front of us, but from the revelation of the Trinity and the theological elaboration that divine Person = relation, i.e. to be is to be self-gift as in “the Father is the act of engendering the Son.”[2] Or perhaps, more importantly, one can ask: is the “I” the empirical being that is experienced in the gift of self? This last suggestion is precisely the insight of John Paul II that the being of the self as imaging the divine Persons is the experience of being-in relation. To be a person in act is to be doing the action that is self-giving.

Now, in Christology, the Logos is a divine Person who assumes not human nature (an abstraction) but a concrete soul, matter (body), intellect, will, feelings. The existential dynamic is the human will that belongs to the divine Person as His very Self. The self or “I” is the Agent of all free acts. This is the major Ratzinger insight on the development after Chalcedon. Recall that he said: “The development of dogmatic theology did not end with the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. The so-called neo-Chalcedonian theology summarized at the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) further made a notable contribution to an exact understanding of the close union of dogmatic and biblical theology. Only through this can we fully understand the sense of the Chalcedonian dogma (451). 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…. 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 mankind.”[3]

In another place, Ratzinger makes this specific. He clarifies that the “nature” that was considered in Chalcedon became the existential “human will” in Constantinople III. This Council, championed by Maximus the Confessor, “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.”[4] The human will is assumed by the divine “I.” The scriptural foundation is found in John’s “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6, 38). Ratzinger’s point is: “The Logos speaks of the will and human thought of Jesus using the ‘I.’”[5] “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 relation and pure act.”[6]

The subject of the act of will is not the will as “nature” but the “I” of Logos as divine Person. “I will” is the divine Person willing with the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth (no human person). If it were the will doing the willing we would have a Nestorianism that would be a parallelism between the divine and the human. This has been the source of the still unresolved dualisms we suffer from in: supernatural/natural, grace/nature, faith/reason, Church/State, ministerial priest/lay faithful

The solution of the divine and the human cannot be found by considering the natures as “static” in parallel but as “compenetrating” in the one divine “I” of the Logos who is the Agent of both wills such that both the human and divine wills (there are two) are of the same one divine Person. Hence, although they are ontologically distinct because the divine assumption of the human will, etc. into the divine Person does not damage humanity but makes it reach the original potentiality that belong to it from its creation as image of the relational Persons. Now, the human will actually is able to enter the divine freedom of giving itself completely in love as death on the Cross. This is not annihilation but supreme achievement as will.

A Discrepancy:

The topic of suffering is decisive in disclosing the metaphysical anthropologies at work in theologies such as Thomas Weinandy and the authors of “The Mystery of Jesus Christ.” To wit: they insist that God cannot suffer as God without ceasing to be God. It seems that they have conflated nature and person and consequently deal with “person” as substance, and not Trinitarian relation. They assess the position of Ratzinger (not directly or knowingly) as a “veiled Monophysitism:”[7] They hold that “(T)hese kenotic theories stem from difficulty in conceiving how two natures which are complete (yet each retaining its own properties without division of intermixing) can be joined in the unity of a single person. Hence the arguments they use and even the problems they raise are basically the same as those of Arius, Appolinaris and in general those of the Monophysites.”[8]

Our authors will consider the position like Ratzinger’s to be Monophysite – a Logos-Sarx Christology - because the actions of the man Jesus of Nazareth (Sarx: flesh) have been defined to be the actions of God (Nicaea ). It is important to note that the distinction between nature and person had not been defined until the Council of Ephesus (431). Ephesus defined the human nature to be the principle of the immanent, temporal activities of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, to explain how God could be the supreme unchanging Absolute while functioning as man in the changing history of quotidian life, reason had recourse to the affirmation that there must be human nature as proximate principle of that activity since unchanging, absolute substance cannot be the direct grounding of accidental activity. To think otherwise was to leave Christology in the state of Monophysitism that dominated the 4th century after Nicaea. Under the pressure of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, The Council of Ephesus affirmed that Christ, indeed, had a human nature such that Our Lady in engendering it had to relate to the divine Person who assumed it as Mother. Hence, Theotokos.

This position was confirmed in Chalcedon (451) where the two natures appeared to be parallel and supported ontologically in the substance of the one Person of Christ. It is here that Weinandy and our authors seem to have considered the situation concluded. The two natures are in parallel, the divine nature is the unchanging and absolute Godhead that cannot suffer by definition, while the human nature must be the grounding and seat of suffering. They conclude that God suffers, indeed, but as man, not as God. To say that the Godhead suffers would now bypass the human nature as principle of the humanity of Christ and thus fall into Monophysitism, i.e. “one naturedness.” Thus they say:


“The problem posed by this theory of God’s suffering is, in a sense, not Christological but Trinitarian or, to put it more exactly, it is a Trinitarian problem caused by a mistaken Christological stance. Through wrongly applying the communication idiomatum (exchange of properties) in Christ, the holders of these views fail to accept the famous ‘immutabiliter’ (unchangingly) of the Council of Chalcedon and all that follows from it, and they fall into a Monophysitism which collides head-on with divine omniperfection and immutability. When these writers are speaking about God’s suffering they are really saying that God is subject to change. This kind of approach, whatever form it takes, is akin to the ancient error of the Theopaschites, Monophysite in origin.

“It has to be said that passibility of this type cannot exist in God. Although it is true that the formulas used to speak about the suffering God underwent in Christ are only grasped by us in a very limited way… ‘the Christology of the Church does not allow us to affirm formally that Jesus Christ could suffer according to his divine nature;’ nor can one speak formally of mutability and passibility in God.”[9]

The clincher to clarifying the conflict is the following: “the holders of these views fail to accept the famous ‘immutabiliter’ (unchangingly) of the Council of Chalcedon… and they fall into a Monophysitism.”

I would suggest that this position errs by attributing free moral action to nature as object when only subjects so act: “Actiones sunt suppositorum.” Only persons will, think and act in freedom. Faculties do not act. They are deployed by “I’s” who are the protagonists. Our authors accuse the Ratzinger position of Monophysitism. It is a logical accusation if there is only one nature that is divine which must bear the burden of giving an account of an Absolute Being who is God who goes through the non-absoluteness of contingent actions of suffering. Having at hand the definition of the human nature as a created principle of contingent acts, it would make sense to load human nature with the burden of explaining the contingency of suffering. But the difficulty is in the revelation recorded in Scripture: “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6, 38). The divine “I” is the Subject who deploys His human will. It is “”I” of the Son Who is doing the human willing, not the human nature. Besides, it is a commonplace of Thomistic metaphysical anthropology that only person are subjects of free moral acts. Persons act, natures operate. The subject of the human will of Jesus of Nazareth is the divine “I” of the “I have come down.” Hence, to say that God as God cannot suffer but suffers as man is to “reify” or personalize nature rendering it an autonomous subject that makes nonsense of the revelation and rational account of Christology and Redemption.

[1] F. Ocariz, L. F. Mateo Seco and J. A. Riestra, “The Mystery of Jesus Christ” Four Courts Press (1994) 292-300.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 132.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad (1987) [new printing] 100.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 38-39.
[5] J. Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, “Journey to Easter” Ignatius (1987) [new edition] 102.
[6] Ibid
[7] Ocariz, Mateo Seco, Riestra, “The Mystery of Jesus Christ,” Four Courts Press (1994) 298.
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid. 299.
[10] John Paul II, “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” August 15, 1988 #8.

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