Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Presentation of Mary

The Church puts Augustine’s exhortation that we become the Mother of Christ as the topic for the Office of Readings. He quotes Scripture:

“Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.” He commented: “As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and coheirs with himself.

“Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? ‘Of Mother Church,’ I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism; you came to birth then as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ” (emphasis mine).

Let’s go by parts:

1) Mary becomes Mother of Christ by the free act of obedience. From the theological elaboration on the ontological constitution of the divine Persons, Love and Life are identified in Them. In God, to love is to live and to live is to love. “God is Love (αγάπη)" (1 Jn 4, 9). Hence, in the created persons imaging the Divine, the theological description emerges: “man, the only earthly being that God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.” In sexual morality, this will be translated as “love-making must always be open to life-giving.” Therefore, Mary’s act of self-gift that is faith, liberated from the constraints of original sin that would have tended to turn her back on herself, was a co-operative act with the Holy Spirit in the generation of Logos within her.

She was not simply an instrument. She exercised causality. She is really the Mother of God. John Henry Newman said: “Now, what is especially noticeable in these three writers [Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus] is that they do not speak of the Blessed Virgin merely as the physical instrument of Our Lord’s taking flesh, but as an intelligent, responsible cause of it: her faith and obedience being the accessories to the Incarnation, and gaining it as her reward… (T)hey [the three Fathers] unanimously declare that she was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered; they declare she co-operated in our salvation not merely by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon her body, but by specific holy acts, the effect of the Holy Ghost within her soul; that, as Eve forfeited privileges by sin, so Mary earned privileges by the fruits of grace; that , as Eve was a cause of ruin to all, Mary was a cause of salvation to all; that, as Eve made room for Adam’s fall, so Mary made room for Our Lord’s reparation of it; and thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that, as Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated n effecting a much greater good.”[1]

Transformation into Mothers of Christ

What we have here is the dynamic whereby each is able to become “another Christ.” To become “another Christ” means that each engenders Christ in himself. In other words, One must recall St. Paul’s outrageous metaphysics in his “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2, 20); “The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. He does not say, ‘And to his offsprings,’ as of many; but as of one, ‘And to thy offspring,’ who is Christ” (Gal 3, 16-17); “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are the offspring of Abraham, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3, 28). Augustine comments: “Let us rejoice and give thanks for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (…). Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!”[2]

The dynamic is the bifurcation of the human person in his very self whereby he is able to master his very self. Not simply spirit subduing the matter of the body, but the whole self subduing or mastering himself. The root of this anthropology is the Christology that is implicit in Paul’s Hebrews 9, 14 that reads: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself,” and 9, 15 that speaks about Christ being mediator in the sense of making “the sacrifice of himself.”

The Usefulness of the German Enlightenment To Give an Account

The metaphysical profile for an anthropology of the self subduing and mastering the self emerged in the German philosophy of Herder’s expressivism and Kant’s freedom of autonomy that merged in Hegel’s attempt to integrate these two contradictions that basically implied each other in human experience. Charles Taylor’s most persistent insight yesterday and today can be summed up in the following: “to find a way of life and thought which would unite two powerful aspirations, which were both connected yet opposed. One is to that unity with nature, other men and himself which man demands as an expressive being; the other is to the radical moral autonomy which reached paradigm expression in Kant and Fichte.”[3] The exercise of reason and will while immersed in the inexorable determinism of the natural material world involves a “separation” of mind and matter. Taylor says: “The oppositions are those which arise from breaking up of the original expressive unity. Hence first, man as knowing subject is separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact, not expressive of some idea or purpose. Nature is thus other than mind in not exhibiting any rational necessity or expressive form. And when we push this distinction to its furthest conclusion we have to agree with Kant in attributing whatever degree of necessary form we find in experience to our own understanding rather than to the reality which comes to impinge on this understanding. Since some degree of necessary form is essential to experience, we have to admit that reality as it is in itself, that is, unaltered by any structures that we impose on it, is forever beyond our ken.”[4] And so Kant posited any sort of absolute necessity as coming from categories or structures of our mind that we impose on the brute chaos that comes from the external and extrinsic “other.” At this point, what is interesting is to note how the Enlightenment split between mind and matter bifurcated into two apparently contradictory strains of “experience” as to the nature of the human person. The one strain is characterized by Herder’s analysis of human language (“Treatise on the Origin of Language”) that, he insists, emerged not from the objective mechanism of stimulus sensations and responding squeals, but from the free agency of a subject who “means” something by the utterance. Animals can “get right” that they go through the door with the triangle (not the square) to get the cheese. “But,” says Taylor, “this is clearly not the case with some of the uses of human language. Consider a gamut of activities including disinterested scientific description, articulating one’s feelings, the evocation of a scene in verse, a novelist’s description of character. A metaphor someone coins is right, profound. There is a kind of ‘getting it right’ here. But in contrast to animal signaling, this can’t be explained in terms of success in a task not itself linguistically defined.” Taylor is trying to explain (about Herder) that there must be subjective agency that determines meaning and therefore the “rightness” of words. That is the origin of language. It cannot be reductively “explained.” It can be “described” objectively. An observer can objectively affirm that the dog went through the “right” door to get the bone. But the word “right” must be intentionally – or subjectively – connected by an agent to “door” because of the bone.

So, Kant who rejects that truth, freedom or the absolute can originate outside of reason in the physical, sensible world, and Herder who discovers reason, freedom and the absolute in the physical exercise of language, both coalesce in Hegel combines both in the integral person who exercises reason and freedom by turning on himself and breaking up the flow of necessary nature in him.
Taylor describes it thus: “Thus the major task of philosophy for Hegel can be expressed as that of over-coming opposition [die Aufhebung der Entzweiung]. The oppositions are those which arise from the breaking up of the original expressive unity. Hence first, man as knowing subject is separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact, not exhibiting any rational necessity or expressive form. And when we push this distinction to its furthest conclusion we have to agree with Kant in attributing whatever degree of necessary form we find in experience to our own understanding [the autonomous] rather than to the reality which comes to impinge on this understanding [the heteronymous].”[5]

It is important to note that we have here left the epistemological horizon of the objective and entered that of the subject. They are both experiential, but differently. We have left the objectified anthropology of Aristotle: the “individual substance of a rational nature” that has, indeed, been useful. However, Wojtyla commented: “It [substance] became the dominant view in metaphysical anthropology and spawned a variety of particular sciences, which likewise understood the human being as an animal with the distinguishing feature of reason. The whole scientific tradition… that came down from the Greeks through the Scholastics to Descartes – moved within the framework of this definition and, consequently, within the context of the belief that the essentially human is basically reducible to the world [because everything that is, is also substance].”[6] Within this objective model of the human being, there is no possibility of considering “self-determination.” With the model of being as substance that is “being-in-itself-and-not-in-another,” there can be the determination of accidental parts by accidental parts, as, for instance, the reciprocal causality of the accidents of intellect and will. But the entire substance cannot “determine” itself without contradiction. As a mental construct, it is impossible as self-contradictory that substance “determine” itself.

Jesus Christ, God and Man, is Self-Determining.

However, Jesus Christ, the prototype of the human being, is mediator between Himself and the Father as we saw above in Hebrews 9-11. Within a philosophy of substance, the notion of an “I” being “mediator” between self and another is, as mentioned, self-contradictory. Joseph Ratzinger refines the understanding of this by his development of the meaning of Christology as developed in the Council of Constantinople III (680-681). Ratzinger is quick to point out that Chalcedon (451) indeed defined that there is one divine Person and two natures, but that the relation of those two “natures” embroiled the world in a static Christology and at best left the mind puzzling over how the two natures related such that they were not merely in parallel as a type of “accidents” inserted into a substance that was the divine Person. He also suggests that this set up in parallel of divine nature and human nature was the remote cause of the inheritance of the unresolved parallelisms of grace/nature, supernatural/natural, faith/reason, Church/State. The solution of Constantinople III was to move from the abstract objectification of “nature” to the subjective experience of will. There Ratzinger found that the divine Person assumed the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth as His own. That human will was overlaid with all the sin of all men: “For our sakes he made him to be sin who knew nothing of sin, so that in him we might become the justice of God” (2 Cor. 5, 21). The divine Logos had to defeat the sin that the Father made to reside in the human will, but that was the very will of the divine Person of the Logos. It was His personal human will that was now sinful. This sinfulness He had to defeat in His very Person, and He sweat blood “before His time.”

“Lo! There is blood upon His garment and in His footprints. Whence come these first-fruits of the passion of the Lamb? No soldier’s scourge has touched His shoulders, nor the hangman’s nails His hands and feet. My brethren, He has bled before His time; He has shed blood; yes, and it is His agonizing soul which has broken up His framework of flesh and poured ti forth. His passion has begun from within.”

The humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, which is existentially represented in the human will, is the will of the divine Person. The human will is the very Self of Jesus Christ and He “subdues” and masters it. He subdues His very Self. Expatiating on Constantinople III, Ratzinger comments: “Thus the Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of his own I: ‘For IP have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience, where both wills become one in a single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being. The ‘wondrous exchange,’ the ‘alchemy of being,’ is realized here as a liberating and reconciling communication, which becomes a communion between Creator and creature. It is in the pain of this exchange, and only here, that that fundamental change takes place in man, the change which alone can redeem him and transform the conditions of the world.”[8]

Therefore, The Human Person is Capable of Self-Determining

The lineage from St. Paul’s Hebrews 9-11, through the philosophy of Kant, Herder and Hegel that worked with this double dimension of the human person in history as freedom within the necessity of nature, and now in the light of the self-determining Christ of Constantinople III where He doubles over Himself to determine Self to obedience to death, now opens out into a new metaphysic that comes to light by spying the experience of this self-determination in man, and therefore the metaphysic of an “I” that is quite distinct from substance. It took the sensitivity of Wojtyla to do the phenomenology of this self-determination, discover that it is available to human reason precisely as experience and therefore accountable as a metaphysic of the “I.” Wojtyla does not start with thinking, but with acting. He says:

“The experience of human action refers to the lived experience of the fact ‘I act.’ This fact is in each instance completely original, unique, and unrepeatable… The lived experience of the fact ‘I act’ differs from all facts that merely ‘happen’ in a personal subject. This clear difference between something that ‘happens in the subject and an ‘activity’ or action of the subject allows us, in turn, to identify an element in the comprehensive experience of the human being that decisively distinguishes the activity or action of a person from all that merely happens in the person. I define this element as self-determination.

“This first definition of self-determination in the experience of human action involves a sense of efficacy on the part of the person self: ‘I act’ means “I am the efficient cause’ of my action and of my self-actualization as a subject, which is not the case when something merely ‘happens’ in me, for then I do not experience the efficacy of my personal self.”

This short quote is sufficient to see the metaphysical disclosure that is taking place here by opening up the horizon of the experience of self-determination as the locus of the “I” as being. We are not in the world of the object, but of the subject, and it is a metaphysical world. The Thomistic esse will find its definitive home here in the decades and centuries to come. The “I” is actually the prius of the meaning of being. Wojtyla said as much in Fides et ratio #83: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”

And it is here that we find the metaphysical account of Gaudium et spes #24: man, as unique image of the divine Persons who are pure self-gift; man, who enjoys the freedom of deciding about himself and therefore determining his own ends and his own way to achieve them, finds out who he truly is in his deepest interior, by the sincere giving of himself that is his truth as person as image.

You as Christ’s Mother

If he makes that self-gift by saying “Yes” as Our Lady did, man will discover that he is really “another Christ” since Jesus Christ is the revelation not only who God is, but who he is. Hence, the real meaning of progress is the development of man into his true identity as another Christ, who, in anthropological terms, is service to others, not outside the world and human ordinariness, but precisely in the exercise of the ordinary, the small, the secular and the remunerated.
And, if man discovers that he himself is being transformed into “another Christ” who lives in him, then, he discovers that in fact, by doing the Word of God, he has become not only Christ brother and sister, but also Christ’s mother. To have Christ within you by being “another Christ” is to be His Mother. And then, you must make the others capable of being Christ’s mother by engendering them by making that gift of yourself and affirming them.

[1] John Henry Newman, “The New Eve,” Newman Press, Westminster, Md (1952) 16.
[2] In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 212, 8: CCL 36 216 as in Veritatis Splendor #21.
[3] Charles Taylor, “Hegel,” Cambridge University Press (1975) 76.
[4] Ibid 77
[5] Ibid.
[6] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 211.
[7] John Henry Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion” Discourse 16, Mixed Congregations.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One, “ Ignatius (1986) 92-93.
[9] Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community Lant (1993) 189.

1 comment:

Brian Kilroy said...

The love of our Lord, with the assistance of his Blessed Mother, is ready to be poured out upon the world, limited only by our refusal to allow Him (as our Savior) and Her (as our Mother), give us their love and redeeming power, and in turn—our unique opportunity at eternal life.

The “in-dwelling” of the Lord cited by the saints and philosophers requires initial, affirmative acts of the individual. First, acknowledgement of the Divine Mercy of the Lord, “I am the resurrection and the life, and unless souls seek their life in Me, they will find only death and destruction.” Ironically, we fear the great man-made destroyers of life, while the ultimate destructive power lies within ourselves ready to destroy through the evil that is within ourselves--unless we affirmatively reject the darkness and move ourselves towards the light. As God is light, man is darkness, and unless we come into the light, we, and those who follow us (our children), will be forever darkness. The voice of the Lord is ultimately, the voice of mercy. If man does not listen and affirmatively avail himself of the Lord’s mercy, the “in-dwelling” of the Lord cannot be accomplished.

Acknowledgement of the great possibility of the light is therefore, also an acceptance of the cross, and with it, also the palm, and the sword. As the palm of victory over death is symbolized and foreshadowed by the eternal redeeming power of the Passion of Our Lord so it is with the sword. With the sword, the saints conquered themselves, the world, and the devil, and moved into and absorbed the perpetual light and escaped the alternative—eternal blinding darkness.

Blessed Mary, our Mother, and St. Faustina, and others describe the way—the only way. We must use the sword plunged by us deep into the Heart of Blessed Mary on ourselves and in the world to enable our journey to the Father, an expedition that can only pass through the Lord Jesus Christ who showed us the way through his Divine Humanity. Purity of heart is the means by which the in-dwelling can occur—the giving of oneself, and the working, loving, and doing good to others through an endless cycle of reformation and renewal—each time sanctified a bit more by the saving power of God’s infinite grace.