Thursday, April 26, 2012

Freedom Is Not Primarily Choice

            It is the “Kataphatic” (symbols and words: mediations of likeness between the mind and reality) that keeps imposing the experience that reality is “thing-in-itself,” as opposed to the experience of receptivity and love (tendency) which is the experience of the deeper reality of the self. To explain freedom in terms of “thing-in-itself” constrains one to think in terms of potency or indetermination toward choice.

   Ratzinger's anthropological rendering of the "Son" as relation in the previous blog is the articulation of relational and non-substantialistic meaning of freedom.

            And so, I would offer that freedom is the exercise of determining the self in accord with “the inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine.”[1] Where does this tendency come from? It comes from the mimicking of the Self-transcendence which is prototypical freedom. The Three Divine Persons are not only free; They are Freedom itself. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented: “The real God is bound to himself in threefold love and is thus pure freedom.”[2] Freedom means to become fully who one is. God the Father is fully Himself as Father by being the act of engendering the Son. He is not Father, and then engenders the Son. He is the very act of relating. He is not substance who “then” engenders the Son, thus becoming Father. His totality of Being as Father and Person is the “relating.” And this, of course, is what true freedom means in us as images. To be free will mean to be fully who one is and is supposed to be.

To be as act of relation constitutively, of course, sounds unthinkable – precisely because it is our way of thinking that we impose on the revelation. And it is because we think by the mediation of abstract concepts – “kataphatically,” i.e. by the mediation of symbols and words - that we insist that there must be a substance in which relation is grounded as an accident. But the God of revelation is not the God of the philosophers. Ratzinger remarked that “The Fathers [of the Church], who started from the assumption of this harmony between philosophy and biblical revelation, realized that the one God of the Bible could be affirmed, in his identity, through two predicates: creation and revelation, creation and redemption. But these are both relational terms. Thus the God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship; and to that extent, in the essence of his identity, he is opposed to the self-enclosed God of philosophy.”[3] After the likes of the “Da Vinci Code” we are aware of the tension that preceded the Council of Nicea, and continues today. To say that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Person, Logos, Absolute God, Creator and Lord of all reality, and that He is such in that He is equal to the Father in Godhead but dissimilar as Person-Son engendered from all eternity – explodes the meaning of “Being” substance-in-itself that was received from Greek metaphysics. That is, how can a being be one with another yet be irreducibly different. “Being” for Aristotle and Plato – perhaps they themselves are a decline from the higher metaphysics of the 5th and 6th centuries of Anaximander, Parmenides, Heraclitus, etc. as suggested by Heidegger[4] – meant precisely to be an individual “substance” or the “One,” but not a relation.

            For Heidegger, there is a “concealment of Being” (discovered in the experience of the self) by sensible perception (of “things”) and concepts (judgements of “fact”). That done, there is λήθη which is forgetfulness (the river of Homer), and αλήθειια that is the alpha privative of forgetting that, when combined lethe, is remembering.[5] This is what Benedict XVI is focusing his Magisterium on: the “presencing” of Christ by self transcendence of the self. This is the same point brought out in his understanding of the symmetrical self gift going on in Christ’s Self-revelation, and the self-gift in the act of faith of the believer. The Second Vatican Council will not be understood – nor the Magisterium of John Paul II nor Benedict XVI – if this crucial point is not understood and lived. Reality – “Being” – is the person that must be un-concealed by experiencing itself in the act of relation as self-giving.

(To see that the prototypical meaning of “being” is “person” as in revelation does not created a philosophy that we call “personalism.” It is simply to see that what we mean by “being” in its first instance is person).

Contrarily, “Being” for the Fathers of the Church meant “relation.” Ratzinger says, “as a result of this struggle, a new philosophical category – the concept of `person’ – was fashioned, a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very center of philosophical thought.” Notice that the analogy between God and man is not “being” but person.  He goes on: “The meaning of an already existing category, that of `relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relation moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence. In this context, covenant would be the response to man’s imaging of God; it would show us who we are and who God is.”[6]
            Ratzinger goes further when he directly says that the revealed concept of person “was quite foreign in its inner disposition to the Greek and Latin mind. It is not conceived in substantialist, but… in existential terms. In this light, Boethius’s concept of person, which prevailed in Western philosophy, must be criticized as entirely insufficient. Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined `person’ as naturae rationalis individua substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greeks mind which thinks in substantialist terms.”[7]

            To sum up: since the prototypical meaning of Being in Christian faith-experience is person-in-relation, and freedom takes its meaning from Being, then one “becomes” free to the extent that he/she enters the relationality of self-gift. The more one gives self, the freer one is. Hence, “If you abide in my work, you will be my disciple indeed; you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8, 32); and “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;” (VS #85).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas (1991) 20.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Freedom and Liberation, The Anthropological Vision of the 1986 Instruction Libertatis Conscientia,”   Church, Ecumenism and Politics Crossroad (1988) 274.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Many Religions – One Covenant,” Ignatius (1999) 75-76.
[4] Martin Heidegger, “Early Greek Thinking, The Dawn of Western Philosophy,” Harper Collins (1975- 1984)
[5] Mel Gibson wrote: “There is a classical Greek word which best defines what `truth’ guided my work, and that of everyone else involved in the project: Aletheia. It simply means `unforgetting’ (derived from lethe – water from Homer’s River Lethe cased forgetfulness). It has unfortunately become part of the ritual of our modern secular existence to forget. The film, in this sense, is not meant as a historical documentary or does it claim to have assembled all the facts. But it does enumerate those described in relevant Holy Scripture. It is not merely representative or merely expressive. I think of as contemplative in the sense that one is compelled to remember (unforget) in a spiritual way which cannot be articulated, only experienced;” The Passion, Tyndale (2004)  Foreword.
[6] Ibid 76-77.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion Parson in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 448.

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