Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Theology of Corporeality

· The human person is a composite of body and soul
· Both body and soul are personal
· The Divine Person of Christ is the prototype of the imaging human person;
· The Divine Person of Christ is constitutively relational;
· Therefore the human body is constitutively relational, speaking the language of gift.

After 400 years of Enlightenment philosophy where the body is considered “thing” or machine, it is important is to revisit the meaning of the human body, particularly that of Jesus Christ, as “the self-expression and ‘image’ of the spirit.”

Charles Dickens gives voice to Enlightenment positivism with his opening scene of “Hard Times.” Chapter I is entitled “The One Thing Needful.” It begins with teacher Gradgrind apodictedly stating (Note the upper case “F” in “Facts”):

“`Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girl nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will be of any service to them. “This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’”

After reducing a little girl to sobs after being unable to define a horse, he turns to one of the boys: “Bitzer.” “Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, your.’” Bitzer answers:”‘Quadruped, Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty-four grinders, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth. Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
“Now, girl number twenty,” said Mr. Gradgrind [triumphantly summing up]. ‘You know what a horse is.”

Let it be noted that “Facts” are judgments of existence, keeping it at a distance, or “objectified” by an existential subject. John Courtney Murray, S.J. makes a trenchant observation in this regard concerning the beginnings of the recovery from objectivistic reductionism to historical consciousness – without giving up, nay rather regaining, objective realism.

“The second great trend of the 19th century was the movement from classicism to historical consciousness… Suffice it to say that classicism designates a view of truth which holds objective truth, precisely because it is objective, to exist `already out there now” (to use Bernard Lonergan’s descriptive phrase). Therefore, it also exists apart from its possession by anyone. In addition, it exists apart from history, formulated in propositions that are verbally immutable. If there is to be talk of development of doctrine, it can only mean that the truth, remaining itself unchanged in its formulation, may find different applications in the contingent world of historical change. In contrast, historical consciousness, while holding fast to the nature of truth as objective, is concerned with the possession of truth, with man’s affirmations of truth… The Church in the 19th century, and even in the 20th, opposed this movement toward historical consciousness. Here, took, the reason was obvious. The term of the historical movement was modernism, that `conglomeration of all heresies,’ as Pascendi dominici gregis called it. The insight into the historicity of truth and the insight into the role of the subject in the possession of truth were systematically exploited to produce almost every kind of pernicious `ism,’ unto the destruction of the notion of truth itself – its objective character, its universality, its absoluteness. These systematizations were false, but the insights from which they issued were valid. Here again a work of discernment needed to be done, and was not done. To be quite summary about it, this work had to wait until Vatican Council II.
“The sessions of the Council have made it clear that, despite resistance in certain quarters, classicism is giving way to historical consciousness;”
Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican Council II, Paulist Press (1966), Appendix III by John Courtney Murray, S.J.

Testimony of Scripture Concerning Christ as Body

The Divine Person of the Logos – Suffering as God - is Perceived through the Wounds

Now, recall that after the Resurrection, Christ appeared in the upper room saying to the eleven: “Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24, 39). Notice that it is the divine “I that is calling to be felt and seen through the body. Benedict says: “the body is not just ‘there,’ having a merely external relationship to the sprit; rather, the body is the self-expression and ‘image’ of the spirit. In the human being, what constitutes biological life also constitutes the person. The person actualizes itself in the body and the body is, therefore, its expression. In the body we may see what is invisible as spirit. Because the body is the person become visible, and the person is an image of God, the body, taken in its full network of relationships, is also the space where the divine becomes imaged, expressed, seen. This is why, from the very beginning, the Bible portrays the mystery of God in images of the body and of the world that is ordered to that body. In so doing, the Bible is not creating external images for God; rather, if it can use corporeal things as images and if it can talk about God in parables, it is because these things truly are images. Thus, by the use of such analogous language the Bible does not alienate the corporeal world but rather names the most real thing about that world, the core of what it is. By interpreting the world as a storehouse of images for the story of God with man, the Bible points to the world’s true nature and makes God visible in that place where he really expresses himself.”[1]

Benedict goes on: “The Incarnation is founded on the fact that God in his paradoxical love, transcends himself and assumes flesh and thus enters the very passion of being human. But in this self-transcendence of God what really comes to the forefront is, contrariwise, that interior self-transcendence of the whole creation which the Creator had woven into its very fabric: the body is a movement of self-transcendence that tends to spirit, and spirit is a movement of self-transcendence that tends to God. Seeing the invisible in the visible is a paschal event, and the encyclical.

Benedict then rounds to his point: “Here, the doubting Thomas, who needs to see and to touch in order to believe, puts his hand into the Lord’s open side, and, as he touches it, he recognizes the Untouchable while nevertheless touching it, and he sees the Invisible while nevertheless really seeing it: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20, 28). The encyclical (Haurietis aquas) illustrates this with the wonderful passage from St. Bonaventure’s Mystical Vine which remains on e of the classical statements of devotion to the Sacred Heart: ‘The wound of the body thus points to the spiritual wound… Let us, through the visible wound, gaze at love’s invisible wound!’[2]

The Divine Logos Becomes Visible through the Wounds of His Mystical Body

“There is at this moment, in the world, at the back of some forsaken church, or even in an ordinary house, or at the turning of a deserted path, a poor man who joins his hands and from the depth of his misery, without very well knowing what he is saying, or without saying anything, thanks the good Lord for having made him free, for having made him capable of loving. There is somewhere else, I do not know where, a mother who hides her face for the last time in the follow of a little breast which well beat no more, a mother next to her dead child who offers to God the groan of an exhausted resignation, as if the Voice which has thrown the suns into space as a hand throws grain, the Voice which makes the worlds tremble, had just murmured gently into her ear, ‘Pardon me. One day you will know, you will understand, you will give me thanks. But now, what I am looking for from you is your pardon. Pardon.’ These – this harassed woman, this poor man – are at the heart of the mystery, at the heart of the universal creation and in the very secret of God. What can I say of it? Language is at the service of the intelligence. And what these people have understood, they have understood by a faculty superior to the intelligence although not in the least in contradiction with it – or rather, by a profound and irresistible movement of the soul which engaged all the faculties at once, which engaged to the depth their entire nature… Yes, at the moment that this man, this woman, accepted their destiny, accepted themselves, humbly – the mystery of the creation was being accomplished in them. While they were thus, without knowing it, running the entire risk of their human conduct, becoming themselves, according to the words of St. Paul, other Christs. In short, they were saints (Georges Bernanos).[3]

The Wound of Our Society

Male Adolescence and the Failure of Initiation

Richard Rohr offers five basic truths of personal and social existence that have been extirpated from male consciousness in present day society:

Life is hard
You’re not that important
It’s not all about you
You’re not in charge
You’re going to die

The cause and perpetuation of the failure of the male to enter into manhood is the lack of initiation through suffering. Without suffering, the young male person fails to enter into what Rohr calls “liminal space” where the conversion from a boy into a man takes place – necessarily. There is no substitute for this. There is suffering, but it is disintegration.

One does not enter this space on one’s own initiative, nor alone. The boy must be taught. The grave difficulty is that there is no one to teach. Rohr says that “We are not a healthy culture for boys or men. Not the only reason but surely one reason is that we are no longer a culture of elders who know how to pass on wisdom, identity, and boundaries to the next generation. Most men are over-mothered and under-fathered – now even more in the age of single parents. Or to use the title of Alexander Mitsherlich’s classic, we are a ‘society without fathers.’[4] The effects of this are lifelong for both genders, creating boys who never grow up and want to marry mothers instead of wives, and girls who want securing and affirming daddies instead of risk-taking partners. Neither gender is ready for the work and adventure of a full life.

“The current older generation of men in the United States has, to a great extent, not been mentored by their own fathers. They were usually given necessary messages either in quick male style or translated through the language and experience of women. Women have been training boys to be their version of men, or men who have not been mentored have been modeling a teenage level of ego development. Neither is what we need.

“We are starting at zero now, in many cases, or praying for some act of spontaneous combustion, since you can pass on only what you yourself know. You can lead your sons and daughters only as far as you yourself have gone. Men who lost their father at age ten may do fine with their young sons up to the approximate age of ten, and then they often lose self-confidence in their parenting abilities. Following are just a very few of the sad statistics regarding young men who have not been mentored by elder men.

“The patterns of failure among our young men are frightening; the levels of depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, and violence among young males today re exponential: ‘Over 94 percent of all inmates are male. Not only do men live an average of seven years less than women, but they suffer far more than their female counterparts from ulcers and other stress-related diseases. [Consider Karl Stern’s “Flight From Woman” which begins: “The problem of activism – a lack of balance between action and contemplation – is said to be characteristic of our time. The man of restless energy, the hustler and go-getter is a figure familiar to the popular imagination; one associates this kind of life with ‘organization men,’ ‘managerial’ and executive types.’ (…) Now when ever we psychiatrists have an opportunity to observe this kind of person as a patient, we find at the bottom of it all a maternal conflict and a rejection of the feminine. The observation was first made in a peculiar and unexpected context – patients suffering from peptic ulcer of the stomach.” {Farrar Straus Giroux (1965) 1-2}] They are more likely than women to die sooner from each of te fifteen leading causes of death…. Over 80 percent of all suicides are men. In the twenty-twenty-four age bracket, males commit suicide almost six times as often as females. When men are over eighty-give, they are over fourteen times as likely to commit suicide as women of the same age. Men are hurting.’”

Rohr goes on to give an example of the male initiation process of aboriginal boys in Southwestern Australia. During the initiation rite, “if they had shown themselves teachable and ready to handle power for the good of the community and not just for themselves, they were allowed to create a stone ax for themselves from the flint at that sacred spot. They returned ceremoniously to their village bearing their ax and their new mantle of manhood. In this way, their manhood was not self-constructed or privately possessed; rather, it was agreed upon and bestowed by the larger community of men and therefore was expected to be returned to the community in the form of service and participation. Mainly, it was a sign that the young man could handle power and not abuse it.”
Apparently, when the English and Irish settlers arrived, they gave axes to every young man. “Soon young men who did not know how to handle power had power, and boys who had not paid any dues declared themselves men. The playing field had been falsely leveled. Young men who had no social vision or socially bestowed manhood were given power without being given the inner skills to know how to handle power. The result was that manhood lost its social dignity and spiritual influence, wreaking immense havoc on the whole ecosystem of that aboriginal culture…

“The English historian G. M. Trevelyan said that Western education ‘has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.’ In other words, we have substituted job preparation for broad education, information for knowledge, facts and statistics for wisdom. What the primal peoples seem to have known is that mere technology without depth and breadth is dangerous, even destructive to society. Initiation was on a different place than mere transference of facts and data.”

This brings to mind a remark by J. R. R. Tolkien the gist of which was recorded by the friend, convert and priest Robert Murray S.J.: “ one of the last times we met, Ronald was maintaining with great vigour over the luncheon tale that one of the greatest disasters of European history was the fact that the Goths turned Arian [read rationalist objectifiers of fact]: but for that, their language, just ready to become classical, would have been enriched not only with a great bible version but also, on Byzantine principles, with a vernacular liturgy, which would have served as a model for all the Germanic peoples and would have given them a native Catholicism which would never break apart. And with that he rose and in splendidly sonorous tones declaimed the Our Father in Gothic.”[7]

Healing Men: Becoming Men; Becoming Fathers

“Do you know what it is to be a Father?

“To be a Father is precisely to suffer; to become a father is to become vulnerable. As long as one is young, one is hard, selfish, protected. No doubt, one has terrible blues, emotions, melancholies, but one holds one’s own pretty well, one withdraws easily, one suffers only for oneself. Our compassion for others is gratuitous, generous, superfluous.

“But when one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail, being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart. Oh, we really depend on people who depend on us! The strong person who loves a weak person has put his happiness at his mercy. He depends on him henceforth. He is without any defense against him. To love a person is inevitably to depend on him, to give him power over us. God loved us freely; God have us power over him. God wanted to have need of us. The passion is the revelation of our terrible power over God. He surrendered himself to us, we had him at our disposal, we did with him what we wanted. On a plaque in Normandy one can read this cruel sentence: ‘It is always the one who loves the least who is the strongest.’ It is always he who is least in love who gets his way with the other, who keeps a cool head and stays in control of the situation. God, in regard to us, will always be the weakest, for he loves. God can be denied, forgotten; he cannot deny us, forget us. We can be without God. God cannot be without men.
[8] We can stop being sons; he cannot stop being a Father. ‘Man in revolt against God is like the bird in the storm which dashes itself against the cliff. But God, in his mercy, became flesh so that the violence of the impact might be endured by him and not by us.’ Thus, God will always be the weakest against us for he loves us. We are of Jacob’s race, we are the true Israel, he who fought against the angel all night and who deserved his name: ‘mighty against God.’”[9]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” Towards a Civilization of Love Ignatius (1985) 149-150.
[2] St. Bonaventure, vol. 8, Chap. 3, 163b; Haurietis aquas, p. 337.
[3] Louis Evely, “Suffering,” Herder and Herder (1967) Foreword.
[4] Alexander Mitsherlich, “Society without the Father” Harper Perennial (1963).
[5] Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return” Crossroad (2004) 12-13.
[6] Rohr, op. cit.
[7] Robert Murray, S.J. “Perspectives” in the Catholic Imagination of JK.R.R. Tolkien The Chesterton Press, Seton Hall University (2003) 99.
[8] This is not a statement of pantheistic emanationism but the “erotic” dimension of God’s Love that is both Agape and eros. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est:” “The one God in whom Israel believes… loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape…. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I had you over, O Israel!... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11, 8-9);” (Deus Charitas Est #9-10).
[9] Louis Evely, Ibid 126-128

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