Wednesday, November 07, 2007

November: Suffrages for "Souls"


The Christian revelation of the relational subject in the Trinitarian God and in man as image and likeness should revamp our perception of the human person as a surviving “soul” without the body, and therefore clarify what we should mean by “soul.” In brief, it is not the Greek “form” but the enfleshed spirit as subject, the whole “I.”

Joseph Ratzinger:

“We are confronted with two different total views, which cannot simply be added together: the image of man, of God and of the future, is in each case quite different, and thus at bottom each of the two views can only be understood as an attempt at a total answer to the question of human fate.

"The Greek conception is based on the idea that man is composed of two intrinsically alien substances, one of which (the body) perishes, while the other (the soul) is in itself imperishable and therefore goes on existing in its own right independent of any other beings. Indeed, it was only in the separations from its essentially alien body, so it was thought, that the soul came fully into its own. The biblical train of thought, on the other hand, presupposes the undivided unity of man; for example, Scripture contains no word denoting only the body (separated and distinguished from the soul), while conversely in the vast majority of cases the word soul too means the whole corporeally existing man; the few places where a different view can be discerned hover to a certain extent between Greek and Hebrew thinking and in any case by no means abandon the old view. The awakening of the dead (not of bodies!) of which Scripture speaks is thus concerned with the salvation of the one, undivided man, not just with the fate of one (so far as possible secondary) half of man. It now also becomes clear that the real heart of the faith in resurrection does not consist at all in the idea of the restoration of the body, to which we have reduced it in our thinking; such is the case even though this is the pictorial image used throughout the Bible. What, then, is the real content of the hope symbolically proclaimed in the Bible in the shape of the resurrection of the dead? I think that this can best be worked out by means of a comparison with the dualistic conception of ancient philosophy.

1. The idea of immortality denoted in the Bible by the word ‘resurrection’ is an immortality of the ‘person,’ of the one creation ‘man.’ In Greek thought the typical man is a perishable creature which as such does not live on but goes two different ways in accordance with its heterogeneous formation out of body and soul; but according to the biblical belief it is precisely this being, man, that as such goes on existing, even if transformed.

2. It is a question of ‘dialogic’ immortality (= awakening!); that is, immortality results not simply from the self-evident inability-to-die of the indivisible but from the saving deed of the lover who has the necessary power; man can no longer totally perish because he is known and loved by God... All love wants eternity, and God’s love not only wants it but effects it and is it. In fact the biblical idea of awakening grew directly out of this dialogal theme: he who prays knows in faith that God will restore the right (Job 19, 25 ff; Ps. 73, 23 ff); faith is convinced that those who have suffered in the interests of God will also receive a share in the redemption of the promise (2 Macc. 7, 9 ff). Immortality as conceived by the Bible proceeds not from the personal force of what is in itself indestructible but from being drawn into the dialogue with the Creator; that is why is must be called awakening. Because the Creator means not just the soul but the man physically existing in the midst of history and gives him immortality, it must be called ‘awakening of the dead’ = ‘of men.’ It should be noted here that even in the formula of the Creed, which speaks of the ‘resurrection of the body,’ the word ‘body’ means in effect ‘the world of man’ (in the sense of biblical expressions like ‘all flesh will see God’s salvation,,’ etc.); even here the word is not meant in the sense of a corporality isolated from the soul….(underline mine).

"To the soul as conceived by the Greeks the body, and so history too, is completely exterior; the soul goes on existing apart from them and needs no other being in order to do so. For man understood as a unity, on the other hand, fellowship with fellow men is constitutive; if he is to live on, then this dimension cannot be excluded. Thus on the biblical premise the much-discussed question whether after death there can be any fellowship between men seems to be solved; at bottom it could only arise at all through a preponderance of the Greek element in the intellectual premises: where the ‘communion of saints’ is an article of faith, the idea of the anima separata (the ‘separated soul’ of scholastic theology) has in the last analysis become obsolete.

"These ideas could only attain their full scope after the New Testament had given concrete shape to the biblical hope – in the last analysis the Old Testament by itself leaves the question of the future of man in the air. Only with Christ, the man who is ‘one with the Father,’ the man through whom the being ‘man’ has entered into God’s eternity, does the future of man finally appear open. Only yin him, the ‘second Adam,’ is the question of man’s identity finally answered. Christ is man, completely; to that extent the question who we men are is present in him. But he is at the same time God speaking to us, the ‘Word of God.’ In him the conversation between God and man which has been going on since the beginning of history has entered a new phase: in him the Word of God became ‘flesh’ and was really injected into our existence. But if the dialogue of God with man means life, if it is true that God’s partner in the dialogue himself has life precisely through being addressed by him who lives for ever, then this means that Christ, as God’s word to us, is himself ‘the resurrections and the life’ (Jn. 11, 25). It also means that the entry into Christ known as faith becomes in a qualified sense an entry into that being known and loved by God which is immortality: ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life’ (Jn. 3, 15; 3, 36; 5, 24). Only from this angle is it possible to understand the train of thought of the fourth evangelist, who in his account of the Lazarus episode wants to make the reader understand that resurrection is not just a distant happening at the end of the world but happens now through faith.”

* * * * * * * * *

Aside: See here Ratzinger’s whole presentation of the Kingdom of God as the very Person of the Incarnate Christ, and that we are that Kingdom now insofar as we live out the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, now. See Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth” which develops the theme that Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ, Son of the living God. That is, this historically contingent individual man is the Absolute Person of God. The Absolute is in the contingent, the Eternal is in time. The Parousia is not merely for the end of time. It is then, but also, now.
To deny that is to eradicate the presence of God, which sadly has been the characteristic of our time. God is now absent, or - perhaps better said by Cardinal Francis George - a "hobby." Nevertheless, we continue to hear talk of the “Kingdom of God. It is announced: “We must now move toward ‘regnocentrism,’ that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This at last, we are told, is the heart of Jesus’ message, and it is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future. ‘Kingdom,’ on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It means no more than this. This ‘Kingdom’ is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the ‘Kingdom.’ They are, of course, perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the ‘Kingdom,’ a world, in other words, where peace, justice, and respect for creation are the dominant values.

This sounds good… [but] (o)n close inspection, this whole project proves to be utopian dreaming without any real content, except insofar as its exponents tacitly presuppose some partisan doctrine as the content that all are required to accept.

But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious’ traditions claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count fort nothing. Faith and religions are not directed toward political goals. Only the organization of the world counts. Religions matters only insofar as it can serve that objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation.

“Let us return, then, to the Gospel, to the real Jesus. Our main criticism of the secular-utopian idea of the Kingdom has been that it pushes God off the stage. He is no longer needed, or else he is a downright nuisance. But Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, not just any kind of kingdom. It is true that Matthew speaks of the ‘Kingdom of the heavens,’ but the word heavens is an alternative expression for the word God, which the Jews, with an eye to the second commandment, largely avoided out of reverence for the mystery of God. Accordingly, the phrase ‘Kingdom of heaven’ its not a one-sided declaration of something ‘beyond;’ it speaks of God, who is as much in this world as he is beyond it – who infinitely transcends our world, but is also totally interior to it.”

Let me add that to bring God back on the stage by the conversion of self into being “another Christ” is not to introduce the Kingdom that is the religio-political “Christendom” which is a clericalized caricature of living, faith-grounded secular order built on the truth of the human person as another Christ, perfect God, perfect man.

* * * * * * * * *

“Whoever believes is in the conversation with God which is life and which outlasts death. At this point, too, the ‘dialogic’ strand’ in the biblical concept of immortality, the one related directly to God, and the ‘human fellowship’ strand meet and join. For in Christ, the man, we meet God; but in him we also meet the community of those others whose path to God runs through him and so towards one another. The orientation towards God is in him at the same time towards the community of mankind, and only the acceptance of this community is movement towards God, who does not exist apart from Christ and thus not apart either from the context of the whole history of humanity and its common task.

"This also clarifies the question, much discussed in the time of the Fathers of the Church and again since Luther, of the ‘intermediate state’ between death and resurrection; the existence-with-Christ inaugurated by faith is the start of resurrected life and therefore outlasts death (Phil. 1, 23; 2 Cor. 5, 8; 1 Thess. 5, 10). The dialogue of faith is itself already life, which can no longer be shattered by death. The idea of the sleep of death continually discussed by Lutheran theologians and recently also brought into play by the Dutch Catechism is therefore untenable on the evidence of the New Testament and not even justifiable by the frequent occurrence in the New Testament of the word ‘sleep:’ the whole train of thought of every book in the New Testament is completely at variance with such an interpretation, which could hardly be inferred even from late Jewish thinking about the life after death.”[3]
Does This Mean that Only Those Living Out Supernatural Faith Live Forever? Or, At Root, Is There Such a Thing as a "Natural Man?"

Ratzinger asks the question: "Does this view not make immortality into a pure grace, although in reality it must fall to man's lot by virtue of his nature as man? In other words, does one not finish up here with an immortality only for the pious, and thus in a division of human fate which is unacceptable?...

"To put it in theological terms, are we not here confusing the natural immortality of the being 'man' with the supernatural gift of eternal love which makes man happy? Must we not hold fast, precisely for the sake of the humanity of the Christian faith, to natural immortality, for the reason that a continued existence conceived in purely christological terms would necessarily slide into the miraculous and mythological?...

"The last question can indubitably be answered only in the affirmative. But this is by no means at variance with our original premise. It too entitled us to say decisively: The immortality which we have called, precisely because of its dialogic character, 'awakening' falls to the lot of man, every man, as man, andis not some secondary 'supernatural' addition. But we must then go on to ask: What really makes man into man? What is the final distinguishing mark of man? To that we shall have to answer: The distinguishing mark of man, seen from above, is his being addressed by God, the fact that he is God's partner in a dialogue, the being called by God. Seen from below, this means that man is the being that can thinkof God, the being opened on to otranscendence. The point here is not whether he really does think of God, really does open himself to him, but that he is fundamentally the being who is in himself capable of doing so, even if in fact, or whatever reasons, he is perhaps never able to utilize this capacity (underline and color emphasis mine).

"Now one could say: Is it not much simpler to see the distinguishing mark of man in the fact that he has a spiritual, immortal soul? This definition is perfectly sound; but we are in fact at this moment engaged in the process of trying to elucidate its concrete meaning The two definitions are not in the least contradictory; they simply express the same thing in different modes of thought.

What does “having a spiritual soul” mean?

Ratzinger: “'having a spiritual soul’ means precisely being willed, known and loved by God in a special way; it means being a creature called by God to an eternal dialogue and therefore capable for its own part of knowing God and of replying to him. What we call in substantialist language ‘having a soul’ will be described in a more historical, actual language as ‘being God’s partner in a dialogue.’ This does not mean that talk of the soul is false… in one respect it is indeed even necessary in order to describe the whole of what is involved here. But on the other hand it also needs to be complemented if we are not to fall back into a dualistic conception which cannot do justice to the dialogic and personalistic view of the Bible.”

[1] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 270-272.
[2] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 53-55.
[3] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” ­­op. cit 272-273
[4] Ibid. 275.

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