Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Takes Place in the Act of Faith? [1]

The Transformation of the Believing Subject into Ipse Christus

“I am referring to the statement in the Letter to the Galatians in which Saint Paul describes the distinctive element of Christianity as a personal experience which revolutionizes everything and at the same time as an objective reality: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’(Gal. 2, 20). This affirmation stands at the end of that brief spiritual autobiography which Paul sketches for his readers – not in order to boast but, by alluding to the story of his own relationship with Christ and the Church, to make clear the nature of the gospel which has been entrusted to him. Beginning on t he outside, this apologia pro vita sua leads him, so to speak, farther and farther inward. He first presents the external events surrounding his vocation and the subsequent direction of his life. Finally, however, this one phrase, like a sudden bolt of lightning, reveals in its light the inner event which took place in those outer events and which lies at their very foundation. This inner event is at one and the same time wholly personal and wholly objective. It is an individual experience in the highest degree, yet it declares what the essence of Christianity is for everyone. To explain it as meaning that becoming and being a Christian rest upon conversion would still be much too weak a way of putting things. This is not to deny that such an interpretation is indeed aiming in the right direction, but the point is that conversion in the Pauline sense is something much more radical than, say, the revision of a few opinions and attitudes. It is a death-event. In other words, it is an exchange of the old subject for another. The ‘I’ ceases to be an autonomous subject standing in itself. It is snatched away from itself and fitted into a new subject. The ‘I’ is not simply submerged, but it must really release its grip on itself in order then to receive itself anew in and together with a greater ‘I.’

                “In the Letter to the Galatians, the fundamental intuition about the nature of conversion – that it is the surrender of the old isolated subjectivity of the ‘I’ in order to find oneself within the unity of a new Subject, which bursts the limits of the ‘I,’ thus making possible contact with the ground of all reality – appears again with new emphases in another context….

                “[When considering the offspring of Abraham” (Gal. 3, 16)] he emphasizes quite vigorously that the promise was issued only in the singular. It is intended, not for a mass of juxtaposed subjects, but for ‘the offspring of Abraham’ in the singular  [my emphasis](Gal. 3, 16). There is only one bearer of the promise, outside of which is the chaotic world of self-realization where men compete with one another and desire to compete with God but succeed merely in working right past their true hope. But in what sense is the promise the object of hope if it applies only to one individual? The Apostle’s answer runs like this: ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have pout on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3, 27-29). It is important to take note of the fact that Paul does not say, for example, ‘you are one thing’ (my emphasis), but rather stresses that ‘you are one man [person].[2]

  All of the above is to suggest the depth of the act of faith as a series of acts of the transformation of the self into the Self of Christ, so as to be able to be experience and be conscious -  as St. Paul and St. Josemaria Escriva, among others – of becoming and being alter Christus, Ipse Christus. How does this take place? By a lifetime of acts of self-gift in ordinary secular work and family life: the repetition of the life of Nazareth.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology,” in The Nature and Mission of Theology, Ignatius (1995) 51-52.
[2] The Greek word is heis (masculine) as opposed to hen (which is neuter).

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