Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ascension 2007

The Gnostic Scandal
Guardini confronts the Initial Scandal of the Gnostic Mind: Is there matter in God? Does God have a body?

“To the question: What have we to do with the spiritualism of Gnostics” – the answer is: A great deal!”[1] Gnosticism is a rationalism that splits reality into hermetically sealed dualisms such as compartmentalized spirit and matter. In the light of that, Guardini asks:

“Who is God? The supreme Spirit, and so pure, that the angels by contrast are `flesh’! He is the Endless, Omnipotent, Eternal, All-inclusive One in the simplicity of his pure reality. The Unchanging One, living in himself, sufficient unto himself.”[2]

And in view of the revelation of Jesus Christ asks:

“What possible use could he have for a human body in heaven? … Why must we also believe that this piece of creation is assimilated into the eternity of God’s existence? What for? A bit of earthliness lost and caught up into the tremendousness of eternity? Why doesn’t the Logos shake the dust from him and return to the pure clarity of his free divinity?”[3]

Guardini then asks:

But then what manner of God is this, with whom Resurrection, Ascension and throning on his right hand are possible?”

And he answers:

“Precisely the kind of God who makes such things possible! He is the God of the Resurrection, and we must learn that it is not the Resurrection that is irreconcilable to him, but part of our thinking that is irreconcilable to the Resurrection, for it is false.”

He concludes:

“If we take Christ’s figure as our point of departure, trying to understand from there, we find ourselves faced with the choice between a completely new conception of God and our relation to him.”

“We must also completely reform our idea of humanity, if it is to fit the mould Christ has indicated. We can no longer say: man is as the world supposes him to be; therefore it is impossible that he throne at God’s right, but: since Revelation has revealed that the Son of Man does throne at God’s right, man must be other than the world supposes him. We must learn that God is not only `supreme Being,’ but supremely divine and human Being; we must realize that man is not only human, but that the tip of his essence reaches into the unknown, and receives its fulfillment in his Resurrection.”[4]

Josef Ratzinger on the Ascension:

“What, then, is the meaning of Christ’s ‘ascension into heaven’? It expresses our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. Heaven is not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater, something that requires far more audacity to assert: Heaven means that man now has a place in God.”

“The basis for this assertion is the interpenetration of humanity and divinity in the crucified and exalted man Jesus. Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God’s abiding openness to all human beings. Thus Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven; heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, ‘ascension into heaven’ can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.”

The word “interpenetration” is of major importance. It is contrasted with the word “parallel” that is the assumed to be the way the divine and human natures are related in Christ. This latter understanding has had the most profound impact on the way we understand the relation of the divine and the human, be it supernatural/natural, grace/nature, faith/reason, church/state and priest/layman. The clarification of this word “interpenetration” is of maximal importance in the most practical affairs in these seemingly irresolvable dualisms. Consider that if Christ is God, and the revelation of the meaning of man, then the alignment and relation of the divine and human in Christ will determine the meaning “human” in life, thought, the political and economic order and priesthood.

To get it right, Ratzinger (following Von Balthasar) insists on the need to cap off Christology not with Chalcedon in 451, but with Constantinople III in a.d. 680-681. He says:

“It is common enough for the theological textbooks to pay scant attention to the theological development which followed Chalcedon. In many ways one is left with the impression that dogmatic Christology comes to a stop with a certain parallelism of the two natures in Christ. It was this same impression that led to the divisions in the wake of Chalcedon. In fact, however, the affirmation of the true humanity and the true divinity in Christ can only retain its meaning if the mode of the unity of both is clarified. The Council defined this unity by speaking of the `one Person’ in Christ, but it was a formula which remained to be explored in its implications. For the unity of divinity and humanity in Christ which brings `salvation’ to man is not a juxtaposition but a mutual indwelling. Only in this way can there be that genuine `becoming like God,’ without which there is no liberation and no freedom.

“It was to this question, after two centuries of dramatic struggles which also, in many ways, bore the mark of imperial politics, that the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) addressed itself. On the one hand, it teaches that the unity of God and man in Christ involves no amputation or reduction in any way of human nature. In conjoining himself to man, his creature, God does not violate or diminish him; in doing so, he brings him for the first time to his real fullness. On the other hand (and this is no less important), it abolishes all dualism or parallelism of the two natures, such as had always seemed necessary in order to safeguard Jesus’ human freedom In such attempts it had been forgotten that when the human will is taken up into the will of God, freedom is not destroyed; indeed, only then does genuine freedom come into its own. The Council of Constantinople analyzed the question of the two-ness and the one-ness in Christ by reference to the concrete issue of the will of Jesus. It resolutely maintains that, as man, Jesus has a human will which is not absorbed by the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes one will with it, not in a natural manner but along the path of freedom. The metaphysical two-ness of a human and a divine will is not abrogated, but in the realm of the person, in the realm of freedom, the fusion of both takes place, with the result that they become one will not naturally, but personally. This free unity – a form of unity created by love – is higher and more interior than a merely natural unity. It corresponds to the highest unity there is, namely, Trinitarian unity. The Council illustrates this unity by citing a dominical word handed down to us in the Gospel of John: `I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). Here it is the divine Logos who is speaking, and he speaks of the human will of the man Jesus as his will, the will of the Logos. With this exegesis of John 6, 38 the Council indicates the unity of the subject in Christ. There are not two `I’s in him, but only one. The Logos speaks in the I-form of the human will and mind of Jesus; it has become his I, has become adopted into his I, because the human will is completely one with the will of the Logos. United with the latter, it has become a pure Yes to the Father’s will.".

The impass in the 200 years after Chalcedon in resolving the relation of the divine and human nature in Christ was due to borrowing a static understanding of “nature” from Greek metaphysics whereby the notion of freedom would be confined to the notion of “choice.” The key to understanding this consists in the critical turn that defines the entire theology/philosophy of then-Joseph Ratzinger, to wit: the experience and consciousness of the human person along the same lines as the divine Persons, i.e. relationality. To be = to be in relation. This lifts us out of the epistemology of sensation --> abstraction into the epistemology of the experience of the “I” in the moment of self-transcendence-self-gift. We are here talking about two levels of experience: one on the level of the external senses; the other, on the level of the “I” in the moment of self-determination. This latter is a “deeper” (because unmediated by sense or concept) experience of Being than experience of sensible being. In this non-mediated contact of the “I” with itself in the moment of existential action, freedom is not primarily choice but as self-mastery and self-determination. One experiences deciding about oneself rather than simply being necessitated between the poles of stimulus and response. If one makes the gift of self in obedience as in faith, or self-gift as in spousal love, then one experiences being-in-relation. This is a distinct experience from sensation with a distinct metaphysics that is not equal to, but transcending the notion of in-itself-substance (that has dominated thought since the Ionian philosophy of the 6th century B.C. that was in contact with Jewish faith at the time of the Exile).

Ratzinger studied Constantinople III and found there that the human and divine “wills” in Christ are irreducible as metaphysically distinct (divine and human) but since they are both wills of the same Person of the Logos, they are one personal will since it is the not the will that wills, but the Person. Voila the key metaphysical error that has plagued us for centuries and left us with the conundra of the dualisms that most practically beset us. To wit: It is the same Person who wills with the human and the divine will. Hence, they are one in the Subject although they are ontologically irreducible. Hence again, instead of the word “parallel” that would explain the previous explanations in terms of “natures,” we have the term “compenetration” that points to the mystery of the Incarnation in the one Person.

Consider Ratzinger again on this:

“In the manuals, the theological development after Chalcedon has ordinarily come to be little considered. The impression thus frequently remains that dogmatic Christology finishes up with a certain parallelism between the two natures of Christ. This impression has also been the cause leading to the divisions since Chalcedon. But in effect the declaration of the true humanity and the true divinity of Christ can retain its significance only when there is a clarification also of the mode of unity of the two natures, which the Council of Chalcedon has defined by the formula of the `one person’ of Christ, at that time hot yet fully examined. In fact only that unity of divinity and humanity which in Christ is not parallelism, where one stands alongside the other, but real compenetration, - compenetration between God and man – means salvation for humankind. Only thus in fact does that true `being with God’ take place, without which liberation and freedom do not exist.

“This same query returned at the third Council of Constantinople (680-681) after two centuries of dramatic struggle marked most often also by Byzantine politics. According to this Council, on the one hand: the unity between the divinity and the humanity in Christ does not in any sense imply an amputation or reduction of the humanity. If God joins himself to his creature –man/woman – he does not wound or diminish it: he brings it to its plenitude. But on the other hand (and this is no less important) there remains no trace of that dualism or parallelism of the two natures, which in the course of history was frequently judged necessary to defend the human liberty of Jesus. Such studies forgot that the assumption of the human will into the divine will does not destroy freedom, but on the contrary generates true liberty. The Council of Constantinople has analyzed concretely the problem of the two natures and one person in Christ in view of the problem of the will of Jesus. We are reminded firmly that there exists a specific will of the man Jesus that is not absorbed into the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes a single will with it, not, however, in a forced way but by way of freedom. The metaphysical duplicity of a human will and a divine will is not eliminated, but in the personal sphere, the area of freedom there is accomplished a fusion of the two, so that this becomes not one single natural will but one personal will. This free union – a mode of union created by love – is a union higher and more intimate than a purely natural union. It corresponds to the highest union which can exist, the union of the Trinity… The Council explains this union by a saying of the Lord given in the Gospel of John: `I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). Here the divine Logos is speaking, and speaking of the human will of Jesus in the mode by which he calls his will the will of the Logos. With this exegesis of John 6, 38, the Council proves the unity of the subject: In Jesus there are not two `I,’ but only one. The Logos speaks of the will and human thought of Jesus using the `I;’ this has become his `I,’ has been assumed into his `I,’ because the human will has become fully one with the will of the Logos, and with it has become pure assent to the will of the Father.
“Maximus the Confessor, the great theologian-exegete of this second phase of the development of Christological dogma, has illustrated those references to the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which we have already seen in the previous meditation, as the most clear expressions of the singular relationship of Jesus with God. In effect, in such prayer we can, so to speak, look into the inner life of the Word become man. We can see it in that phrase which remains the measure and model of all effective prayer: “Not what I will, but who thou wilt’ (Mk. 14, 36). The human will of Jesus enters into the will of the Son. By doing so, it receives the identity of the Son, which consists in entire subordination of the I to the Thou, in the giving and transferring of the I to the Thou: this is the mode of being of the one who is pure relations and pure act. When the `I’ gives itself to the `Thou,’ freedom originates, because the `form of God’ has been assumed.
"But we can also describe this process, and describe it better, from the other side: the Logos so humbles himself that he adopts a man’s will as his own and addresses the Father with te I of this human being; he transfers his own I to this man and thus transforms human speech into the eternal Word, into his blessed `Yes,’ Father.’ By imparting his own I, his own identity, to this human being, he liberates him, redeems him, makes him God. Now we can take the real meaning of `God has become man’ in both hands, as it were: the Son transforms the anguish of a man into his own filial obedience, the speech of the servant into the Word which is the Son.
“In the unity of wills of which we have spoken is attained the greatest conceivable transformation of any person, which is at the same time the one thing ultimately desirable: divinization. Thus the prayer which enters into the prayer of Jesus, and which in the body of Christ becomes the prayer of Jesus Christ, can be defined as the `laboratory’ of freedom. Here, and in no other place occurs that profound change in a person which we need for the world to become better. Only on this road in fact does conscience attain its full rectitude and an irresistible strength. And only from this conscience can be born again that order in human affairs which corresponds to human dignity and which can defend it: an order which in every generation must be sought afresh by a vigilant human conscience, so that the Kingdom of God may come, a kingdom which God alone can build.”[7]

Ascension: Presence, not Absence


“(T)he disciples returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’ (Lk 24, 52). They knew that what had occurred was not a departure; if it were, they would hardly have experienced ‘great joy.’ No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This event gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive; that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that the door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.

“For the disciples, then, the ‘ascension’ was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rather his new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. This is why Johannine theology for practical purposes identifies the Resurrection and the return of Christ (e.g., 14, 18 ff.); with the resurrection of Jesus, by reason of which he is now with his disciples forevermore, his return has already begun.”

Presence as “Word”

“That Luke did not have an essentially different understanding of the situation is again clear from today’s reading. In it Christ rebuffs the disciples’ question about the restoration of the kingdom and instead tells them that they will receive the Holy Spirit and be his, Jesus,’ witnesses to the ends of the earth. Therefore they are not to remain staring into the future or to wait broodingly for the time of his return. No, they are to realize that he is ceaselessly present and even that he desires to become ever more present through their activity inasmuch as the gif of the Spirit and the commission to bear witness, preach, and be missionaries are the way in which he is now already present. The proclamation of the Good News everywhere in the world is – we may say ion the basis of this passage – the way in which, during the period between the Resurrection and the second coming, the Lord gives expression to his royal rule over all the world, as he exercises his lordship in the humble form of the world.

“Christ exercises his power through the powerlessness of the word by which he calls human beings to faith.

“If I Go, I Will Send Him To You”

The way that Christ continues to be present in the most real way consists in each of us becoming Christ. This is the reason for the sending of the Spirit. The profound truth is that Christ is the meaning of man as prototype. Gaudium et Spes #22 reads: “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” The footnote to point on Tertullian reads: “For in all the form which was moulded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who to be.” Since the Being of Christ as Logos is total relationality to the Father, and the Council has formulated that relationality in Gaudium et Spes #24 as “man, the only earthly being that God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself,” when the human person makes that sincere gift of self, he begins to be transformed in ipse Christus. The Christological Gestalt of the transformation of man into Christ is the radical relationality of self-gift.

Since man without Christ can do nothing – nihil posse - , the Ascension to the Father involves the sending of the Spirit Who, in Himself, is Person-gift. It is the Spirit Who gives us the power and the act of self-giving and transforms us into Christ Himself, Who then, in turn, continues to be present “disguised as us” in the midst of secular society. Concerning the physiognomy of the Spirit, John Paul II wrote:
“It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons, and that through the Holy Spirit, God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love. He is Person-Love. He is Person-Gift. Here we have an inexhaustible treasure or the reality and an inexpressible deepening of the concept of person in God, which only divine Revelation makes known to us.”[10]

And consider this: If the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and if the Son, ascended to throne at the right hand of the Father is the Incarnate Logos Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit proceeds as “spirated” from the very Body of Jesus Christ. The total immateriality of the Person of the Spirit proceeds from the matter of the Son. This boggles the Gnostic imagination and demands that we rethink our understanding of the Incarnation and the meaning of the material world.


Secularity refers to the freedom of autonomy of the human will of the Christ. That human will is perfected in its human freedom by becoming the will of the divine Person-Subject of the Logos Who exercises it. Hence, "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."[11] Secularity is that freedom of autonomy that we exercise as baptized into Christ’s Person, and therefore into His freedom. We are also called to personally master-ourselves as the supreme exercise of freedom, in order to get possession of ourselves to conform to the truth of the human person in Christ, and thus to make the gift. Such exercise of freedom is the meaning of “secularity.” See Gaudium et Spes #36 and “Christifideles laici” #15.

This presence of Christ after the Ascension will be overwhelmingly “secular” (that is not secularism which is equal to atheism: there is not God). Most recently in his “Opening Address for Aparecida Conference,” Benedict XVI remarked:

“This political task [creating political and economic structures] is not the immediate competence of the Chruch. Respect for a healthy secularity – including the pluralism of political opinions – is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Chruch is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identity with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that s the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life: they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice."[12]

The Gift of Self: Exaltation on the Cross

“For John… the mystery of Good Friday, of Easter, and of Christ’s Ascension form but a single mystery. The cross has a second, mysterious dimension: it is the royal throne from which Christ exercises his kingship and draws the human race to himself and into his wide-open arms (cf. Jn. 3, 14; 8, 28; 12, 32-33). Christ’s royal throne is the cross; his exaltation takes the form of what seems to the outsider the extreme of disgrace and humiliation."

[1] R. Guardini, The Lord, Regnery (1954) 412.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. 413.
[4] Ibid 413.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 63.
[6] Ratzinger comments: “The central distinction which is fundamental to the Council (and which has received scant attention up to now) was worked out by Maximus the Confessor: he distinguishes the Thelema Physikon which belongs to the naturae and thus exists separately in Christ’s godhead and manhood, from the `gnomic’ thelema `which is identical with the liberum arbitrium and pertain to the person; in Christ it can only be a single thelema, since he subsists in the divine Person’ (Beck 41). Thus `much that had earlier been regarded as Monophysite… could be taken into spiritually’ (Beck 43). Once this basic idea of Constantinople III, which is central to Neo-Chalcedonian Christology, based on Pannenberg, are futile, resting on a misunderstanding. In Theo. Berichte 2, 29, Wiederkehr speaks of the `symmetrical path of the two-natures doctrine’ under the influence of the `two wills’ decision and thinks that it resulted from the idea `of an internal Christological dialogue… between a divine and a human nature.’ Thus he can rightly object that `there is nothing of this in the Jesus of the synoptics.’ `As far as the man Jesus is concerned, his dialogue partner is the Father, not his own self in his divine nature and person.’ This assertion, which he opposes to Neo-Chalcedonism, is in fact precisely the view of Constantinople III, except that the latter works out its ontological and existential structure very much more thoroughly than Widerkehr. Pannenberg (Jesus, God and Man, 1968) formulates it thus: “`Person’ is a relational concept, and, because the relation of Jesus to the Father in his dedication to him is identical with the eternal Person of the Son of God’ (339). It seems to me, if I read him correctly, that Pannenberg too fails to see that he is thinking along the same lines as Constantinople III (and Maximus the Confessor). In fact he is concentrating rather on the dispute with Leontius of Byzantium. From this point of view… etc., etc.
[7] Josef Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad (1987) 88-91.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 64.
[9] Idem.
[10] John Paul II, “Dominum et Vivificantem” #10.
[11] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor” #85.
[12] Benedict XVI, “Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!” Aparecida, Brazil, May 13, 2007, 4.

No comments: