Thursday, September 10, 2015

Apropos of Reading an Article on Nature and Grace[1] More on “Laudato Si”

Clearly, we cannot put the question of grace and nature behind us until we realize that we have not framed it in the correct terms,  i.e. in terms of Christology and the meaning of Christology on the notion of Creation, particularly that of St. Thomas Aquinas. Therefore, rather than thinking of grace and nature in objective terms, it occurs to me that we should be thinking about them in terms of Revelation itself, i.e. the Person of Jesus Christ and the architecture of His Persona. Hence, we are talking about Chalcedon (451) and Constantinople III (680-1) which deliver the account that Jesus Christ is one Person with two “natures,” one uncreated as divine, the other created and human. And it is necessary to clarify that as uncreated and created, they are ontologically distinct and are not to be confused nor mixed. The final tally yields the conclusion that the divine Person of Christ lives out His relation to the Father through both “natures” as the Protagonist of all activity, understanding by that that the divine nature does not act or will, and that the human nature does not act or will, but rather that it is always His unique “I” as Son Who acts and wills. Newman makes this point powerfully when he suggests that the death of Jesus Christ was not something done to him, but He died by His own free act as divine Persona. He was most active when He was dying. It was His act as Self-gift. It was the divine Persona of the Son Who died: “His passion was an action; He lived most energetically, while He lay languishing, fainting, and dying. Nor did He die, except by an act of the will; for He bowed His head, in command as well as in resignation, and said, ‘[Father, into thy hands I commend My Spirit,’ He gave the word, He surrendered His soul, He did not lose it.” [2]

Hence, Joseph  Ratzinger clarifies that the “natures” of Christ are not in parallel but rather “compenetrate” insofar as it is always the “Person” Who is acting and willing according to those natures. Failure to keep this in mind points one in the wrong direction of trying to solve the problem of how to resolve the relation of uncreated and created when one is as Creator and the other doesn’t have to be as created. This is insoluble since we are not talking about the same plane of reality.

                The situation becomes even more interesting when you realize that the Person of Jesus Christ as God-Man is the very center of reality itself and everything has been made by, with and for Him. This is the testimony of St. Paul in that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible… All things have been created through and unto him, and he is before all creatures, and in him all tings hold together.”[3] St. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made.”[4] Robert Barron glosses: “Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars – all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him; rather, is the active and indispensable means by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, in short, is the all-embracing, all-including, all-reconciling Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space.”[5]

                Can we take that seriously?  We had better, since He also said: “heaven and earth will pass away, my words will not pass away.”[6]
                And what does it mean? It means what Robert Barron says it means: that we are to decipher the meaning of uncreated/created, divine/human, supernatural/natural from the relation of the relation of the “natures” in Christ. Where else are we to go since He alone has words of eternal life? We must keep in mind that when we speak of the humanity of Christ, we are talking of something created, which the divine Person of the Son assumed into Himself as His own. It is His own, but it is created. That is, the Creator has entered into His creation and taken the fertilized egg of the Virgin as His own to become Himself. And since, He is the revelation of not only who God is, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10, 30), but who man is, “Feel me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk. 24, 39). Hence, the logic compels us to solve the dualisms of uncreated/created, grace/nature, supernatural/natural within the Christology since all of creation is to be interpreted there.

                That said. How does one go about knowing the sensible world? And the answer must be sought in knowing Jesus Christ since He is the center and meaning of the sensible world. It is only in Him that we can know the relation of the divine and the human. And so, the question is how do we know Christ? And the answer that is given in the Ratzinger hermeneutic of “Who do men say that I am?” concludes that Simon is able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” by entering into the prayer of Christ.[7] That is, since Christ reveals that He is Son, and He and the Father are one (Jn. 10, 30), Jesus can be nothing but pure relation to the Father, which, when incarnate, takes the form of continuous prayer . that is, the divine Person of the Son, in time and space, manifests a continuous flow and output of prayer as self-gift to the Father.

That prayer is the humanity of Christ at work – a human intelligence, will, emotion – manifesting the ontological relation of the Son “compenetra ted with and by the Father. And so we can ask: what is creation? Robert Barron says: ”it is nothing but a relationship to God.” Which means that it is not a substance. It is a receptivity. It is the human body, soul, intellect, will, emotion, imagination of Jesus Christ taken from the Virgin and made act by the one act of existence that is the divine Person Himself.[8] That ”Esse” that is the Son is not “being” (or “Supreme Being,” “First Cause,” “Necessary Being,” “supreme Perfection,” or “Final Cause”) in the genus of being like other “beings,” but the pure actuality of “Being Itself.” It is the Ipsum Esse of the Creator as pure flow of His divine Self to the Father.  That means that Uncreated Esse makes the created human nature of Christ be, and this with such benevolence and tenderness that it is not annihilated or damaged but enhanced and fulfilled totally and completely since it was made for this as image and likeness from the beginning. The human nature of Christ, then, is the very meaning of creation. It is not “substance” but “receptivity” of the act of Creation, and since it is not in parallel as though standing in its own ontological autonomy but receptively compenetrated by the divine Person Who assumed it  It subsists as the divine I in relation to the Father (and “for us”) rather then “substanding” by itself.[9] Barron quotes Aquinas from his De Potentia, q.3, art 1, ad 17 that says: “God simultaneously gives being and produces that which receives being. And thus it does not follow that his action requires something preexisting.”  He remarks that “the Zen-like language… is undermined in the context of creation. The creature cannot be ‘something’ outside of God that receives as a relational accident some influence from the Creator. Rather the creature is the act by which it is created. The relationship between Creator and creature, in other words, is primary and elemental and the ‘substances’ involved – God and the world – are derivative, metaphysically secondary. T he giver-r receiver language, inextricably tied to a metaphysic of substance, cannot be applied to the act by which finitude itself is constituted.  In question 7 Aquinas had shown that God is not a ‘’thing,’ not an individuum; in this response to objection 17 he hints at something just as radical, namely, that the creature too is not a ‘thing’ but sheer relationship.”[10]

                On my reading, “Laudato Si” of Pope Francis seems to be all about this relational-mystical view of creation as the extension of the humanity of Christ. Notice how Francis, quoting St. Francis, begins with “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”[11]

[1] “Henri de Lubac on Nature and race: A Notre onSome Recent Contributions to the Debate,” Nicholas J. Healy, Communio Winter 2008 535-564.
[2] John Henry Newman, “Discourse 16, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion,” Mixed Sermons.
[3] Col. 1, 15 -18
[4] Jn. 1, 1-4.
[5] Robert Barron, “The Priority of Christ,” Brazos Press (2007) 134-135.
[6] Matt. 24, 35.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Thesis 3, Ignatius (1986) 25-27.
[8] St. Thomas, S. Th. III, 17, reply:”a human nature is united to the son of God hypostatically or personally, and not accidentally. Consequently, with his human nature he does not acquire a new personal existence, but simply a new relation of his already existing personal existence to the human nature. Accordingly, this person is not said so subsist not only in divine nature but also in human nature.
[9] The non-sequitur of generally accepted ontology that has Ipsum Esse giving esse to a receptor  which must have esse to be able to receive esse and limit esse
[10] R, Barron, ”Thomas Aquinas’s Christological Reading of God and  the Creature,” Bridging The Great Divide, Rowman and Littlefield (2004) 102,
[11] Pope Francis, “Laudato Si” #1

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