Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Theology of Incarnation - Theology of the Cross

The Prelate in his April 2009 letter copies Benedict XVI’s remarks at the general audience on November 5, 2008: “the theology of the Cross is not a theory; it is the reality of Christian life…. Christianity is not the easy road; it is, rather, a difficult climb, but one illumined by the light of Christ and by the great Hope that is born of him…. Only in this way, through the experience of suffering, can we know life in its profundity, in its beauty, in the great hope born from Christ crucified and risen again.”

The background to this remark is the pope’s explanation as to how the two great theologies – the theology of the Incarnation and the theology of the Cross – complement each other. At root, what he is explaining is the revealed meaning of the Being of the divine Persons as self-transcending: to be = to be in relation (esse = agere), and hence this is the meaning of the being of the human person as image of the Son: Man cannot find himself except by the sincere gift of himself.

The “theology of Incarnation” is the deployment of Greek metaphysics in giving an account of Christian revelation. Hence, the Council of Nicea (325) is the metaphysical statement that “the Son is one in being (ousia) with the Father” (homo-ousios). The Council of Ephesus (431) is the affirmation that Christ, indeed, has two “natures,” the divine and the human; that He is truly and fully human and that Our Lady was the Mother of God. The Council of Chalcedon (451) ratified that there are, indeed, two natures in Christ but only one Person Who is divine. The Council of Constantinople III (680-681) preferred to speak of the human nature dynamically in terms of the human will, but that the protagonist of that dynamism is not the will but the divine Person. Hence, both the human and the divine will form one “Yes” that is the “Yes” of the Person.

Benedict comments:
“Theology of the Cross, on the other hand, will have nothing to do with ontology of this kind; it speaks instead of the event; it follows the testimony of the early days, when people did not yet enquire about being but about the activity of God in the cross and resurrection, an activity which conquered death and pointed to Jesus as the Lord and as the hope of humanity. The differing tendencies of these two theologies result from their respective approaches. Theology of the incarnation tends towards a static, optimistic view. The sin of man appears quite easily as a transitional stage of fairly minor importance. The decisive factor is then not that man is in a state of sin and must be saved; the aim goes far beyond any such atonement for the past and lies in making progress towards the convergence of man and God. The theology of the cross, on the other hand, leads rather to a dynamic, topical, anti-world conception of Christianity, a conception which understands Christianity only as discontinuously but constantly appearing breach in the self-confidence and self-assurance of man and of his institutions, including the Church….

“Anyone at all familiar with these two great historical forms of Christian self-comprehension will certainly not be tempted to try his hand at a simplifying synthesis. The two fundamental structural forms of ‘incarnation’ and ‘cross’ theology, reveal polarities which cannot be surmounted and combined in a neat-looking synthesis without the losss of the crucial points in each; they must remain present as polarities which mutually correct each other and only by complementing each other point towards the whole. Nevertheless, our reflections may perhaps have given us a glimpse of that unity which makes these polarities possible and prevents them from falling apart as contradictions. For we have found that the being of Christ (‘incarnation’ theology!) is actualitas, stepping beyond and out of oneself, the exodus of departure from self; it is not a being that rests in itself, but the act of being sent, of being son, of serving. Conversely, this ‘doing’ is not just ‘dong’ but ‘being;’ it reaches down into the depths of being and coincides with it. This being is exodus, transformation. So at this point a properly understood theology of being and of the incarnation must pass over into the theology of the cross and become one with it; conversely, a theology of the cross that gives its full measure must pass over into the theology of the Son and of being.”

In a word, the two Christologies resonate with each other as particle and wave resonate with each other in the “new” physics. The base is the revealed nature of Person in the Trinity as intrinsic and constitutive relation, who in turn appears in St. Paul’s theology of Christ as priest (mediating between Himself and the Father). He is presented as “priest of his own existence” (Escriva) which is prototypical for us as ministers and lay faithful. Christ makes the gift of His very Self to the Father for us. (See Hebrews 9-11). As Christian anthropology resonates between finding self by sincere gift of self (GS #24), so also the two theologies resonate between Incarnation (finding self) and Cross (sincere gift of self).

[1] Gaudium et Spes #24.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 171-172.

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