Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Ontological and Epistemic Priority of Christ (in view of Robert Barrons’s “The Priority of Christ”[1]

“(R)ather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.”[2]

The Epistemic Priority of Christ: The mind-boggling reality that God, the Creator of all things, has become man. This is the truth that St. Anselm was after, and Robert Sokolowski clarifies. Anselm had said that God was “that than which nothing greater can be thought.”  Sokolowski  writes: “Anselm’s argument works explicitly with the contrast between being in the mind and being in reality. This contrast, the two ways of being that it distinguishes, are themselves deserving of further thought. But besides this explicit premise for his argument, there is another, an implicit premise, which the argument requires but which is not expressed openly by Anselm in chapter two [of the Proslogian]. This implicit premise also contains a contrast. It might be formulated as the statement that:
                (God plus the world) is not greater than God alone;”[3]

                The point Sokolowski makes is that the being of God is so different from the world, that His Being (reality) would not be more because the world exists, nor would It be less if it did not. That is to say, the Being of God as Creator of all things is so different from the being of all things that they are incommensurable. That is not to say that they are not analogous insofar as they are; but rather to say that the way that they are is epistemically different.

                What does that mean? That the Being of God is not part of the world that we know by the experience of sensation, abstraction and rational thought.  His humanity is, indeed, “part” of our world, but His divine Person is not “part” but Creator of all of it.  Nevertheless, His humanity was assumed by His divine Person, and therefore, is it. Being Creator of the world, and yet “in” it, He must be known – as incarnate God in Jesus Christ - through the experience of ourselves as created images of Himself and baptized into Him. We do this by transcending ourselves in the act of faith as He is totally out of Himself as Son of the Father.

Romano Guardini says it thus: “The person of Jesus is unprecedented and therefore measureable by no already existing norm. Christian recognition consists of realizing that all things really began with Jesus Christ; that he is his own norm – and therefore ours – for he is Truth.
                “Christ’s effect upon the world can be compared with nothing in its history save its own creation: ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ What takes place in Christ is of the same order as the original act of creation, though on a still higher level. For the beginning of the new creation is as far superior to the love which created the stars, plants, animals and men. That is what the words mean: ‘I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled’? (Lk. 12, 49). It is the fire of new becoming; not only ‘truth’ or ‘love,’ but the incandescence of new creation…. Down, down through terrible destruction he descends, to the nadir of divine creation whence saved existence can climb back into being…
                Guardini then points out that this will demand a new way of knowing: “Now we understand what St. Paul meant with his ‘excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ:’ the realization that this is who Christ is, the Descender. To make this realization our own is the alpha and omega of our lives, for it is not enough to know Jesus only as the Savior. With this supreme knowledge serious religious life can begin, and we should strive for it with our whole strength and earnestness, as a man  strives to reach his place in his profession; as a scientist wrestles with the answer to his problem; as one labors at this life work or for the hand of someone loved above all else.”[4]
                And then, in implicit reference to the spirit of Opus Dei: “Are these directives for saints?  No, for Christians. For you. How long must I wait? God knows. He can give himself to you overnight, you can also wait twenty years, but what are they in view of his advent? One day he will come. Once in the stillness of profound composure you will know: that is Christ! Not from a book or the word of someone else, but through him. He who is creative love brings your intrinsic potentialities to life. Your ego at its profoundest is he.”

                This is totally the charism St. Josemaria Escriva received experientially on October 2, 1928. And you will know Christ in the most profound intimacy with the most radical realism because you will become Him, such that you will hear from the Father: “You are my Son; you are Christ.” Escriva wrote: “When God sent me those blows back in 1931, I didn’t understand them… The all at once, in the midst of such great bitterness, came the words: ‘You are my son (Ps. 2, 7), you are Christ.’ And I could only stammer: ‘Abba, Pater! Abba, Pater! Abba! Abba! Abba!’ Now I see it with new light, like a new discovery, just as one sees, after years have passed, the hand of God, of divine Wisdom, of the All-Powerful. You’ve led me, Lord, to understand that to find the Cross is to find happiness, joy. And I see the reason with greater clarity than ever: to find the Cross is to identify oneself with Christ, to be Christ, and therefore to be a son of God.”[5]

                With this in view, Pope Francis encourages “the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which is the first proclamation that must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” Since it is addressing the unique ontological reality of the God-Man, it is “the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.”[6]  And as a result, “rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, “we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.”[7]

                Msgr Robert Barron has written “The Priority of Christ – Toward a Postliberal Catholicism.”[8] The third part of the book is entitled “The Epistemic Priority of Jesus Christ,” and his first chapter under that rubric is “The Scriptural Warrant.” There he writes that “It is my conviction that we don’t read Jesus through the lens of a predetermined epistemology, but rather that we understand the nature of knowledge in general through the (narrative icons concerning Jesus Christ).”[9]
                “But is this coherent? Do Christians know in a distinctive way? Are both the object of their intellectual investigation and their manner of rational procedure unique?”

                I skip to the point:  Two texts: a) Accepting St. Paul’s face to face experience of Christ led to his Colossians 1, 15:  “(Jesus is) the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible… All things have been created through and unto him, and he is before all creatures, and in him all things hold together.” Barron writes: “Jesus is not only the one in whom things were created but also the one in whom they presently exist and through whom they inhere in one another. And if we are inclined to view the future as a dimension of creation untouched by Christ, we are set straight: ‘Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’(v. 20). Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars – all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him. Mind you, Jesus is not merely the symbol of an intelligibility, coherence, and reconciliation  that can exist apart from him; rather, he is the active and indispensable means by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, in short, is the all-embracing, all-including, all reconciling Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space.

                b) The Prologue to the Gospel of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God… He was in the world, and the world was made through him… And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us… No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” (1-18).

Barron writes [the same as Guardini]: “Now what follows from these breathtaking descriptions is a centrally important epistemic claim: that Jesus cannot be measured by a criterion outside of himself or viewed from a perspective higher than himself.”[10] That is, you cannot apply a metaphysic of “being” taken “from below” – i.e. from the experience of the created world [except the created human person going out of himself]. And this because there cannot be any created things without the Creator. The Being of God and the being of things have two totally different meanings save that they are (or can be). Barron writes: “He cannot be understood as one object among many or surveyed blandly by a disinterested observer. If such perspectives were possible, then he would not be the all-grounding Word or the criterion than which no more final can be thought. If we sought to know him in this way, we would not only come to incorrect conclusions but also involve ourselves in a sort of operational contradiction. To be consistent with these accounts, we must say that Jesus determines not only what there is to be known (since he is the organizing principle of finite being) but also how we are to know what is to known (since the mind itself is a creature, made and determined through him).
                “A Christ-illumined mind in search of Christ-determined forms seems to be the epistemology implicit in Colossians and the Johannine prologue. Further, as Bruce Marshall has argued, this primacy implies that the narratives concerning Jesus must, for Christians, be an epistemic trump, that is to say, an articulation of reality that must hold sway over and against all rival articulations, be they scientific, psychological, sociological, philosophical, or religious. To hold to Colossians and the prologue to John is to have a clear negative criterion concerning all claims to ultimate truth: whatever runs contrary to the basic claims entailed in the narratives concerning Jesus must certainly be false.”[11]

                Keep the Chalcedon-Constantinople III Christology in mind. There is only one ontological Person in Christ, and He is God the Son, endowed with two natures. All free actions performed by Christ, be they divine or human, are performed by His Person. Both natures are ontologically distinct as uncreated and created, but there is only one active principle: the Person. Therefore, every human act of Christ is divine in time and space. This is what Barron means by “Jesus cannot be measured by a criterion outside of himself or viewed from a perspective higher than himself.”
                Therefore, He is the meaning of “Being.” And if his every human action derives from his divine Person, it will have the characteristic of relation since He is nothing but Relation to the Father.  Therefore, we have to view all the human from sex to doughnuts through the prism of Christ, divine and human. This is a revolution.

The unfathomable forgiveness revealed: How can we begin to understand the magnitude of divine mercy unless we commit an unfathomable sin and be forgiven?
                The unfathomable sin: Deicide. Did Christ suffer as man, or as God-man? Ratzinger: “The suffering Christ… was an unshakeable fact; but there is no such thing as a Passion without the passions: suffering presupposes the ability to suffer, the sensibility and its feeling faculty. In the patristic period it was Origen who most profoundly grasped the theme of the suffering God, and who also most straightforwardly declared that this theme cannot be reduced to the suffering humanity of Jesus, but that it colors the Christian conception of God himself. The fact that the Father allows the Son to suffer constitutes the Father’s own Passion, and this is also the suffering of the Spirit, of whom Paul says that he sighs in us and that, in us and for us, he bears the passion of our longing for the fullness of redemption (Rom. 8, 26f). And it was also Origen, moreover, who formulated the normative hermeneutic on the theme of the suffering God: whenever you hear of God’s passions and sufferings, says Origen, you must always relate these to his love. God is a sufferer only because he is first a lover; the theme of the suffering God follows from the theme of the loving God and continually points to it. The decisive step that the Christian concept of God takes beyond that of the ancients is the realization that God is love.”
                And so, God can be rejected and suffer and not cease to be God as Greek “instrumental” reason saw it. They under stood that one suffers only by a diminution in being, and therefore God, within that metaphysic, would have to cease to be God to suffer. But if God is Love as Self-gift, He suffers because He is not received.[12]

                The Son of God dies, not because they kill Him (Person), but because He wills to die. Death is an act of the whole person. It is done to us; but it could not be done to Him (the Author of life). He would have to execute the action of dying by His divine Self.

John Henry Newman wrote: “He offered Himself wholly, a holocaust, a whole burnt-offering; - as the whole of His body, stretched out upon the Cross, so the whole of His soul, His whole advertence, His whole consciousness, a mind awake, a sense acute, a living co-operation, a present, absolute intention, not a virtual permission, not a heartless submission, this did He present to His tormentors. His passion was an action; He lived most energetically, while He lay languishing, fainting, and dying. Nor did He die, except by an act of the will; for He bowed His head, in command as well in resignation, and said, ‘Father, into Thy hands I comend My Spirit;’ He gave the word, He surrendered His soul, He did not love it.

                “Thus you see, my brethren, had our Lord only suffered in the body, and in ti not so much as other men, still as regards the pain, He would have really suffered indefinitely more, because pain is to be measured by the power of realizing it. God was the sufferer; God suffered in His human nature; the sufferings belonged to God, and were drunk up, were drained out to the bottom of the chalice, because God drank them; not tasted or sipped, not flavored, disguised by human medicaments, as man disposes of the cup of anguish.”[13]

                Now, in the light of the mental revolution that we must undergo to come to grips with the reality of God in His own creation and living a human life in time and space through a full humanity, we can begin to understand the unthinkable horror of deicide and the return we received from it: Shalom: “Peace to you! It is I, do not be afraid” (Lk. 24, 36).
                Barron wrote: “According to the standard interpretation of justice and the traditional theology, this greatest of crimes would call for the greatest of retributions, but instead it is met with nonviolence, compassion, shalom. This in turn shows us that authentic justice is much different from what we had imagined and that God is much stranger than we had thought. God’s love is such that it can swallow up, absorb, and conquer even the most pointed resistance, and this becomes clear in the manner in which the murdered God restores order to the broken circle of his disciples. They (alone with many others) contributed to the killing of God, the most egregious violation of justice imaginable, and God answers this injustice with forgiving love. In light of this compassion that swallowed up the greatest of sins, Paul could exclaim, ‘I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers… neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8, 38-39).  Human beings committed the unsurpassable sin – not only turning from God but actively opposing him, even to the point of putting him to death – and they were met with forgiveness. The only conclusion is the one that Paul drew: that nothing is powerful enough to turn back the relentlessness of the divine mercy.”[14]

                Conclusion: Revolutionaries!! Christ lives! “(R)ather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.”[15]

                The goal is not morality, virtues, orthodoxy, a religious life, apostolate, heaven…, all of which can be ways of looking for yourself. The goal is Christ, the God-Man. And you find Him by exercising in the Bread and the Word.

[1] Brazos Press (2007).
[2] Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel #168
[3] Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and rEason, UNDP (1982) 8.
[4] Romano Guardini, The Lord Gateway (2002) 357-358.
[5] John F. Coverdale, “Uncommon Faith,” Scepter (2002) 93-94.
[6] Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, #163.
[7] Ibid #168
[8] Brazon Press (2007).
[9] Ibid. 133.
[10] Ibid 135.
[11] Ibid
[12] J. Ratzinger, “Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” in Towards a Civilization of Love. Ignatius (1985) 154-155.
[13] John Henry Newman, Discourse 16 to Mixed Congregations:  Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion.
[14] Barron, Ibid, 125.
[15] Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel #168

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