Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Christopher West: Lust and Eschatology

West’s Context: The Theology of the Body:

West raises the question of whether we can live a divine life on earth. He presents it in the light of the teaching of John Paul II and the Theology of the Body. He says (as posted in toto a few days ago): Of Which Man Are We Speaking? The pivotal question as I see it is this: What does the grace of redemption offer us in this life with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies? From there, the questions multiply: Is it possible to overcome the pull of lust within us? If not, what are we to do with our disordered desires? If so, to what degree can we be liberated from lust and how can we enter into this grace? Furthermore, what does it actually look like to live a life of ever deepening sexual redemption? (…)

“‘This is what is at stake,’ John Paul II maintained, ‘the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence’ (Veritatis Splendor 103).” West goes on: “What is the alternative to an effective sexual redemption? If man remains bound by his lusts, is he even capable of loving with a pure heart? Marriage, in this view, comes to be seen and lived as a “legitimate outlet” for indulging our disordered desires and the celibate life comes to be seen and lived as a life of hopeless repression. And we end up ‘holding the form of religion’ while ‘denying the power of it’ (2 Tim 3:5). ‘Ne evacuetur Crux!’ — John Paul II exclaims, ‘Do not empty the Cross of its power!’ (see 1 Cor 1:17). ‘This,’ he said, ‘is the cry of the new evangelization.’ For ‘if the cross of Christ is emptied of its power, man no longer has roots, he no longer has prospects: he is destroyed’ (Orientale Lumen 3).”[1]

Ratzinger's Eschatology and Lust

Consider the same point from the perspective of Joseph Ratzinger’s Eschatology:

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an historical occurrence. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is eschatological. It is the end and the meaning of history. It is the insertion of the Creator-God immanentized in resurrected Flesh as the eschaton (end) of history. It is the “subsistere” of the Logos as the actio in the “est” of history. It means that the historical action of the Resurrection trumps every metaphysics of sensibly perceived being and all theologies of being and existence. Ratzinger writes: “It thus becomes obvious … that the concept of God is removed from the realm of a mere ουσία. I believe that it was here that the definitive boundary between the biblical and the Greek concept of God became obfuscated, that this obfuscation was the crux of the repeated patristic attempts to combine Greek thought with biblical faith and that from this arose for Christian theology a task that is till far from being accomplished.”[2] And, of course, what he means by this is the completion of first order knowing through sensation and abstraction by the second order of experience of the self in the moral act of self-transcendence, beginning with the act of faith. This relational act, that is the obedience of faith, is the metaphysical translation of the supernatural life of Zoë in a world of ín-itself, substantialist life of Bios and Psuche.

Ratzinger asserts the following: “(T)he Resurrection is an action of God…(N)ow we must extend this statement by saying… the Resurrection is an eschatological action of God. No other word in the language of theology today has assumed such a wide range of meanings as the word ‘eschatological;’ hence we must immediately ask ourselves: What does it mean in this context when we designate the action of God as eschatological? The answer must be given in several stages. The starting point is the fact that Israel awaited the awakening of the dead as the end of history, that is, quite literally as the eschaton, as the final action of God (my underline). Using the stylistic devices of the apocalyptic writers, therefore, the Evangelists, and especially Matthew, described Christ’s Cross and Resurrection as the final hour; they wanted to make it plain that his was not just any resurrection, such as an Elias or some other miracle-worker might have brought about, but a resurrection of a kind never before known, after which death would be no more. That means also, then, that in this awakening the realm of history has been transcended, that he who arose from the dead did not return, as anyone else might have done, to a this-worldly history but stands above it, though by no means without relationship to it.

“Thus the Resurrection cannot be an historical event in the same sense as the Crucifixion is. For that matter, there is no account that depicts it as such, nor is it circumscribed in time otherwise than by the eschatological-symbolical expression ‘the third day.’ On the one hand, it belongs intrinsically to the totality and ultimate greatness of this event that it is ‘eschatological,’ that is, that it transcends history; on the other hand, it belongs just as intrinsically to its inherent importance that it also touches upon history, that is, that this person who was dead is not no longer dead; he – really he himself and as such – is eternally alive in his individuality and uniqueness. Thus, it belongs, at the same time, to this event that it both reaches above history and is founded and anchored in history. Indeed, we could almost say, that the definitive transformation that eschatology underwent by virtue of the Christian belief in the Resurrection is its transposition into history. For late Judaic expectation, eschatology lay at the end of history. To believe in the Resurrection of Jesus means, on the contrary, to believe in the eschaton in history, in the historicity of God’s eschatological action.”[3]

The whole thrust of Benedict’s eschatology is the “Now-Already” of the presence of Jesus Christ in history now. It is also clearly proclaimed by Escriva as the very grounding locution and charism of Opus Dei. Jesus Christ lives! And because He lives, we are able to live a divinized life historically, not without defects and sins. But we can – possumus – live supernatural life, the resurrected life of Christ. We can live an ordinary life of radical self-gift in the middle of the historical world. This is dramatic point Christopher West is making together with John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Romano Guardini, etc. confronting the question: Is it possible to overcome the pull of lust within us? Assumed into the Logos as Jesus of Nazareth, we can.

[1] Ref. the blog of Christopher West, October 24, 2009.


[3] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 184-190.

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