Monday, August 06, 2007

Transfiguration 2007

Epistemic Shift

Only God is Real; Only Those Who Become God Know God

Benedict XVI has written prolifically on the Transfiguration in his recently published “Jesus of Nazareth.” His opening point discloses the hidden logic of the entire work: one can know God only by becoming God. Better said: Only God is real. And then, asking, who knows God, he answered: only God knows God.[1]

The point he is making is the following: “All three Synoptic Gospels create a link between Peter’s confession and the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration by means of a reference to time. Matthew and mark say: ‘And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother’ (Mt. 17, 1; Mk. 9, 2). Luke writes: ‘Now about eight days after these sayings (Lk. 9, 28). Clearly, this means that the two events, in each of which Peter plays a prominent role, are interrelated. We could say that in both cases the issue is the divinity of Jesus as the Son; another point, though, is that in both cases the appearance of his glory is connected wit the Passion motif. Jesus’ divinity belongs with the Cross – only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly. John expressed this intrinsic interconnectedness of Cross and glory when he said that the Cross is Jesus’ ‘exaltation,’ and that his exaltation is accomplished in no other way than in the Cross.”

The Shift: From Substance to Subject-Relation

As always, the insight that is the mainspring to the theological mind of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI is the constitutive relationality of being. As seen elsewhere in this blog, the category of being as substance is understood by Benedict to be inadequate to bear the ontological weight and carry the theological freight of what it means to be a divine Person, and therefore a human person (since the God-man Jesus Christ is the prototype of every man).[2]

To understand today’s feast, we must recognize – as he says – that it is preceded by the affirmation of Simon-become-Peter that Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ, Son of the living God. To be able to “re-cognize” the absolute reality of the divine Person, Simon had to “become God,” i.e. he had to enter into the solitude of Christ’s relation to the Father (as Adam had in obediently naming the animals and entering into his “original solitude”) by praying with Him to the Father. He had to be drawn to Christ by the Father in prayer (Jn. 6, 44) and so become “another Christ.” Again, as we have seen elsewhere here, the Person of Jesus Christ is nothing but prayer to the Father. He is pure relation that reveals itself as prayer upon taking flesh.

That clarified, Benedict then shows that the confession that Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Son of the Living God is accompanied by the revelation of the Cross: “Jesus’ divinity belongs with the Cross – only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly. John expressed this intrinsic interconnectedness of Cross and glory when he said that he Cross is Jesus’ ‘exaltation,’ and that his exaltation is accomplished in no other way than in the Cross.”[3]

The mountain is the place of prayer. It is the place of face to face exchange with God. Moses did it on Mt. Sinai where his face became a dazzling light, as did Elijah, the last of the prophets. Israel had lost its faith, was dominated by Ahab and Jezebel who worshipped Baal. Recall the famous encounter between Elijah and the 450 priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel and the calling down of fire for the holocaust victim. This came from the prayer of Elijah, who then had to escape death by walking 40 days to Mt. Sinai for the renewal of faith. These will be the two speaking with Christ on the top of Tabor about His passion and death. Notice the identification of the glory of the Transfiguration and the topic of self-gift in suffering and death. The two are essentially interconnected.

The feast of Tabernacles is the feast of the tents of the people of God in the desert in anticipation of the God pitching His tent among us. The skin of the tent is his flesh. When He enters into prayer with the Father, that “tent” or flesh radiates brilliant light that is the tradition and experience of the halo around the heads of the saints.

Notice also the repudiation of the Gnostic understanding of the flesh. The body of Christ is His very Person. Listen to Ratzinger-Benedict on the now-meaning of the human body: “the body is not just ‘there,’ having a merely external relationship to the spirit; 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.”[4]

St. Josemaria Escriva received a locution on this day in 1970: “clama, ne cesses” (Pray without ceasing). On a foundational day for Opus Dei – August 7, 1931 – during the celebration of Holy Mass and at the Consecration, he recalled: “That day of the Transfiguration, celebrating Hly Mass in the Patronato de enfermos , on a side altar while I raised the Host, there was another voice without the noise of words.
“A voice, as always, perfect, clear: et ego, si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad meipsum! (Jn. 12, 32). And the precise concept: it is not in the sense that Scripture says it; I say it to you in the sense that you put me at the summit of all human activities; that, in all places in the world, there may be Christians with a personal and most free dedication, that the be other Christs.”

Significantly, Benedict speaks about the Transfiguration as “the irruption and inauguration of the messianic age.”[5] “By experiencing the Transfiguration during the Feast of Tabernacles, Peter, in his ecstasy, was able to recognize ‘that the realities prefigured by the Feast were accomplished… the scene of the Transfiguration marks the fact that the messianic times have come’. It is only as they go down from the mountain that Peter has to learn once again that the messianic age is first and foremost the age of the Cross and that the Transfiguration – the experience of becoming light from and with the Lord – requires us to be burned by the light of the Passion and so transformed.”[6]

Observe: to fully be and achieve the light and glory of existence now divinized, one must make the radical gift of self. To be = to be in relation as self-gift: prayer.

[1] Benedict XVI: “(W)hat is this "reality"? What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems "reality"? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of "reality" and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction. The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God. Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth” (bold mine); APARECIDA, Brazil, MAY 13, 2007

“Substance:”1) “In this idea of relativity in word and love [that is the person in God], independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.’ Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: ‘In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today ‘objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view” (Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius [1990] 132). 2) More recently, he refers to “person” as a “new philosophical category… a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very center of philosophical thought;”[2] J. Ratzinger, “The New Covenant,” in Many Religions – One Covenant Ignatius (1999) 76-770).In the light of this, he remarks: “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, relatio 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”(Ibid) 3) “I believe that if one follows this struggle in which human reality had to be brought in, as it were, and affirmed for Jesus, one sees what tremendous effort and intellectual transformation lay behind the working out of this concept of person, which was quite foreign in its inner disposition to the Greek and the Latin mind. It is not conceived in substantialist, but… in existential terms… Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined ‘person’ as naturae rationalis individual 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 Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms.”

[2](J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 [Fall, 1990] 448).
[3] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 305.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “The Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” Towards a Civilization of Love, Ignatius (1985) 149.
[5] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit 317.
[6] Ibid 315.

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