Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, June 29, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Missioning and Fulfillment

RESPONDING TO THE GLORY of the Lord as one beholds the theodrama of the Christ-event is to submit, in a person-to Person confrontation, to the command of the Lord. Yet this submission is not the sort of submission that destroys the personality of the person submitting to God. The submission to the command of God in a convenantual pledge which shows itself in participation in the mission of the Son of God, both in his human mission and in his inner Trinitarian relationship, is the height of human fulfillment.

For von Balthasar, human fulfillment consists not in our human knowing and willing Absolute Being, but rather . . . in a personal relationship with the personal Absolute. God is the absolute "Thou" of the human "I," and the unique and irrevocable name by which God calls each person is the seal of that person's dignity. God's missioning name is not something additional to one's identity. . . . In short, it is the perfect, irrevocable, and fulfilling address of the absolute Thou. The questions of personal identity which the tension between the ambivalence and flux of infinite existence and the longing for the absolute now provokes has its adequate answer: in the mission, one's personal name is written on the absolute.

Steck, 87.   Von Balthasar is, like most moderns, keen to preserve human autonomy.  Yet he does not model it in any kind of form independent of God.  Indeed, human autonomy is oxymoronically or perhaps better, paradoxically, found in a human being's personal participation in his unique mission which is attached to the mission of the Lord.  "This unique mission grants individuals their true autonomy."  Steck, 87.  Anything outside of it is, by definition, slavery or heteronomy.

 Gisele Bauche, The Great Commission

There is a "narrative teleology" in man, one that finds fulfillment in submission to the narrative of the Christ-event.  We "see" ourselves, our own drama, within the greater theodrama which the Lord allows us to "see."  Thus we participate in a unique and fulfilling way our own reality:
Christians [are allowed] to see the diverse particularities of their lives as part of the biblical drama: the occasions of their success and failure, their acts of minor heroism and those of unnoted mediocrity, their rebellion against God and their repentance. The story of Christ, the Christians' story, offers a horizon that illuminates the who that Christians are within these fragments of particularity and points them to an identity that they can embrace with all their energy. In embracing the name the Father has given to the Christian in Christ . . . the Christian is moved to do more than put on a costume and memorize a part. In following the currents of the divine will, Christians eagerly engage in the task at hand with all their love and intellect, their passion and creativity. . .
[T]he Christ-event has really become, through the Christians' incorporation in Christ, their story, not just epistemologically (i.e., the lens through which they interpret their lives), as it might seem in some works of narrative ethics, but ontologically, as the fruit of the Spirit's power to "liquefy" the Christ-form, to use von Balthasar's language, by stamping it onto the lives of their followers.
Steck, 88, 89.

It is this drama-within-the-Theodrama that constitutes our "missioning," and this "missioning" is what is at the heart of the Christian ethical life. "The name that God gives the individual is a missioning name; the individual is sent to further the divine plans and hopes for creation by participating in the mission of Christ."  Steck, 92. This mission is Christological. It is eucharistic. It is not self-dissipating, but rather a self-enlarging expansion of one's life into the very heart of Trinitarian love.  And while this missioning participates in Christ's greater mission, it is for that no less personal, unique, or particular.  "The lives of the saints teach us one thing: growth in Christ is not growth into ethical sameness."  Steck, 91.

Yet, by incorporating themselves into the mission of Christ, all the "fragments" of mankind are "harmonized in the light of the divine economy," and it gives them lasting meaning in that they participate in the eternal relationship within the Absolute.  Steck, 91.  "This mission is not an additional task to one's identity; it is the one's name and identity as viewed from a different vantage, that of the Father lovingly beholding creation through his Son."  Steck, 92.

Monday, June 25, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Divine Obedience and Freedom

VON BALTHASAR'S ETHICAL THEORY is based upon a divine command theory, though it seeks to avoid the traditional problems that plague such theories. One way is to compare the submission to the command as analogous to the submission on experiences upon seeing a work of beauty, only instead of beauty, it is the Glory of the Lord to which one responds. The second way he softens the seeming external imposition of a divine command is with his notion of mission.

In our last blog entry we saw how the creature confronted with God's glory submits to the Lord in love.  Von Balthasar desires, however, to avoid this submission translating into a loss of human freedom.  Though he wants to preserve the notion of God's sovereignty, he also insists on human freedom.  Von Balthasar "maintains that it is the divine intent to bring forth such freedom" from the act of obedience to the sovereignty of God which manifests itself in glory, "a human freedom that is distinct from God's own."  Steck, 83.  This seems paradoxical: to exchange one freedom to gain one freedoms, but these sort of paradoxes are deeply scriptural.  "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."  (Luke 9:24; cf. Matt. 16:25, 10:38, Mark 8:35)

Von Balthasar tries to effect a reconciliation as it were between God's sovereignty and our freedom through the concept of mission.  Specifically, he tries to couple our freedom-giving mission with the freedom that is experience among the persons of the Trinity.  The relationship between the Son and the Father is clearly one of submission (e.g., "I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.") (John 6:38), and yet there can be not question that, as God, the Son is sovereignly free.  It seems quite clear that God wants us to be free as well.  The classical referential text: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32)  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  (Gal. 5:1)

 Crucifixion by William G. Congdon

To gain this freedom which God is desirous to give, the Christian must incorporate himself as it were into the very mission of Christ the Word..  "The task of Christians is . . . to shape their lives into a response in which the unique word that God has made them to be is given expression."  Though the image is "analogous" and "obviously imperfect," von Balthasar's ethics sees the mission of the individual as being one where he "becomes a christological 'person' of the Trinity," though it be in an adopted and not substantive sense.  Steck, 83.

This puts squarely into paradox: "autonomy is achieved by an ever greater dependence upon God."  Steck, 83.  God is able to achieve this, well, because he is God.  "The one, absolute freedom of the Godhead has room for the 'otherness' of human freedom because, as von Balthasar repeatedly stresses, God is already "Other" in the unity of the Spirit, and this divine otherness is the basis for every created otherness."  Steck, 84.

Von Balthasar's concept of mission, then, informs the ethical life:

Since the space made available to the individual through Christ's mission is not 'a mere fluid medium' but rather 'a personal and personalizing area' (TD3.249), the Spirit's prompting will direct the person to embrace more than just general ethical norms or universal principles. He will be called to the unique, personal norm that is his best particular way of freely and creatively participating in the divine interplay.

Steck, 84.*  What von Balthasar is seeking to do is to avoid the ethical life as being viewed as a submission to an impersonal law or impersonal code.  Though he is not advocating by any means some sort of Christian anarchy or Christian antinomianism, he is insisting (I think properly) that the Christian life is ultimately an encounter with a person, the person of Christ, and, moreover, it is deeply Trinitarian inasmuch as it participates intimately in the life-giving Holy Spirit and its unique promptings.  For von Balthasar the "norm must be personal," and the "only such norm is the Spirit."  Steck, 85.  And all this provides an authentic freedom, a freedom that is not contrary to Law, but a freedom that goes well beyond anything the Law can give.  "Through the personalizing presence of the Spirit, we reach into absolute freedom and form ourselves [or perhaps better, are ourselves formed] into the 'I' that God created each of us to be."  Steck, 85.

The ethical life is therefore intimately personal, and though it would be a mistake to attribute to von Balthasar any antinomian character, it is equally a mistake not to see the personal and freeing nature of the ethical covenant as each human person submits himself to the glory of the Lord seen most resplendently in the Christ event (and its apex being the Crucifixion), and in that submission participates in the very mission of the Son, and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit who, it has been promised, will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), including that truth that sets us free (John 8:32).
Thus the Spirit is the gift to us of both "a concrete plan of the future, in accordance with our own mission and hence our own personality, and the inner free spontaneity to carryout, recall, and follow this plan." (TD3.52) . . . Thus, through the Spirit, the Father gives Christians "an acting area in which they can creatively exercise their freedom and imagination." (TD2.273) In our ethical lives, we do not "trace a path already marked out for us, as if we were immature children"; rather, divine freedom "has 'prepared' a personal path for each one of us to follow freely, a path along which our freedom can realize itself." (TD3.52)

Steck, 85. To be sure, since we are inserted into Christ's mission (and it is thus that we obtain the Holy Spirit which gives us freedom), and Christ's mission is one, "the personal identity given to each person and the ethical path it entails will always be christomorphic."  Steck, 85.  Strictly speaking, one does not access the Holy Spirit and gain the freedom of the sons of God except through the channel of the Son's mission.

To be sure, von Balthasar accounts for both light and dark.  There are times when we walk and bask in the light of the Lord, and other times where we walk in the dark night of the soul.  Sometimes, the ethical life requires a sort of "prophetic obedience," one which "requires only word and hearing, not understanding or vision."  With "prophetic obedience," we enter into a sort of "'dark' obedience that God genuinely demands of the Christian."  Steck, 85-86.  This sort of "'dark' obedience" is best displayed in Christ's own "'dark' obedience" as manifested in his acceptance of his passion and death: Christians, along with their master, can have their own Gethsemane, their own via Dolorosa, their own Cross.

To sum up this part of von Balthasar's teaching, the Christian ethical, we might put it all together as does Steck in his synopsis:

The story of Christ draws the individual to enter its story (first level of obedience). Christ's narrative becomes his narrative. The Christian in faith moves from the immanent narratives available to him through his community, family, occupation, etc., and to the narrative that comes to be his in faith. Because he identifies himself entirely with its central character, the desires and wishes of the Father become, in divine obedience (second level), his own. The story that will be authored for him in God's command to him will always be the story of his Son. But in this story, there will also be moments of dark obedience, including the demands for acceptance of suffering and forbearance within it. . . . But this kind of blind obedience is not a self-violating obedience. God's commands will never, existentially or ontologically, direct the Christian out of the story of the Son or away from the idea of unique personhood eternally guarded for each person.

Steck, 86.*

This synopsis is deeply Scriptural, but it is also Ignatian.  "The Ignatian rhythm of indifference and engagement, of contemplation and action, that is part of this story forestalls any disruption by the divine command of the individual's most inward sense of self, since that self has in its deepest freedom identified itself with the personal freedom of God as displayed in Christ."  Steck, 86.

For von Balthasar, Jesus is the "concrete analogy of being," and is "the revelation of the relationship between divine and human freedoms."  As it has been revealed, "these freedoms must be characterized in personal and obediential terms."  Steck, 86-87 (emphasis added)  The Holy Spirit adds an entirely new dimension to this: through the Holy Spirit "God's freedom not only engages human freedom dialogically and interpersonally, but also comes to the individual as the one who bears his freedom."  Steck, 87.

All this participates in that paradox of the Christian ethical life that is captured in this couplet from John Donne's poem, "Batter my heart Three-Personed God":

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
*The jarring (at least to my ear, and to traditional usage) female personal pronouns used in a generic sense have been substituted with traditional masculine form pronouns used in a generic sense.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Submission to the Christ-Event

CONFRONTED WITH THE CHRIST-EVENT, specifically, the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, the Christian is presented with a theodrama, a drama which reveals the Glory of the Lord, and it requires a response. The proper response is a response of submission, or subjection, or obedience. But however one calls this act, one must not forget its person-to-Person quality.

For von Balthasar this act (in man) is a two-fold subjection, a creaturely one and a divine one.  There is a subjection "of our whole nature and person to the service of Christ inasmuch as we are made for him who is our divine head."  In the second subjection (which is simultaneous with the first) we internally adopt "the mind of Christ, whose divine inner freedom and personhood are identical with his obedience to the Father."  Steck, 80 (quoting Balthasar's Christian State of Life, 216-17)

We shall explore this first, creaturely kind of submission in this posting.  The second, divine kind of submission will explored in our next posting.

The first sort of obedient response, the creaturely, is the obedience of faith.  "[F]aith is 'demanded' by God from the one who perceives Christ-form not heteronomously but rather 'aesthetically,' as a free response of gratitude."  Steck, 80.  In other words, the obedience of faith requires us to see more than just a man dying on a cross.  We have to "look beyond" what we see with our eyes, "beyond" history, as it were, and recognize that before our eyes, and a certain time in history, something unique occurred: God gave the human life he had assumed for our sake up for us for our sake.  This is the "form" that must be perceived.  Once faith sees this, and understands the "why" of this dramatic event, this form, he is thankful.  This response is analogous to the aesthetic response, and so we have to recall that this "power of aesthetic expression is never overwhelming power."  Steck, 81 (quoting TD2.28)

Deus Pulchrum est! Venite! Adoremus!

This draw of the form of the Lord as he is found on the Cross is not overwhelming, and the divide caused by its lack of overwhelming nature and its respect of creaturely freedom is that two thieves hung with Christ have such disparate responses to the Lord between them.  One submits in faith.  The other mocks.

What of course the submitting thief learns and the mocking thief loses is that the submission to Christ yields in perhaps a paradoxical or oxymoronic character--it is certainly unexpected--a freedom.  This submission "grants freedom," and it "illuminates, in itself and in the man who encounters it . . . the realm of an infinite dialogue."  Steck, 81 (quoting TD2.28).  "Today you shall be with me in paradise."  (Luke 23:43)  There can be nothing more freeing, more life-giving that this promise obtained by the submission of faith.

The power of God which elicits and demands this response is not power in the way we might understand power.  It is wrong to use power--political, tyrannous--and our submission to it as the analog here.  (Matt. 20:25-29)  Jesus makes it clear that the power seen on earth is not the power he expects his disciples to exercise because it is not the power he will exercise when he gives his life as a ransom for many on the Cross.  This "power"--which Jesus compares to a power of service--is best understood in von Balthasar's eyes as a sort of aesthetic response to the divine Glory which (if one has the eyes to see) will see most vividly on the Cross.

"[T]he triune love of God has power [over us] only in the form of surrender (and in the vulnerability and powerlessness that is part of the essence of that surrender."  Steck, 81 (quoting Von Balthasar, "Eschatology in Outline," 435)  As Steck summarizes the issue: "Because it is not based on a power relation or demand of logic, but rather on an appeal to freedom, the aesthetic claim is both softer in its engagement with human freedom yet more effective."  Steck, 81.  It is through this particularly heuristic lense of aesthetics that von Balthasar is able to save his "command ethics" from "the mire of heteronomy which threatens Barth's ethics," and indeed any ethic based upon voluntarism, divine command.*  Steck, 81.

 The elevation by von Balthasar of the notion of "beauty" in the Christian ethical response to Jesus on the Cross--and the real meaning behind it--makes beauty in God (the divine Glory) a "theological category," and hence the response to such beauty--aesthetics--a "moro-theological category."**  This aesthetic component saves the divine command theory in Steck's view:

In pushing ahead to integrate the discontinuous and continuous themes in an aesthetics of the theological form, von Balthsar redeems divine command ethics for his Catholic audience. Perceiving the beauty of the human other always includes a moment of obedience or discontinuity, and this discontinuity is radicalized before the divine Other. Von Balthasar's theological aesthetics preserves the objective discontinuity of the divine and human judgments (divine glory is not earthly beauty) without postulating a disruption of human agency (i.e., mere hetronomous submission) in order to make this discontinuity tangible. His ethics offers an aesthetic version of what Paul Tillich describes as "thenonomous" ethics.***

Steck, 83.  By likening the ethical response to a human's response to beauty, i.e., by importing an aesthetics into moral theology, von Balthasar nimbly sidesteps some significant problems associated with the divine command theory will fully preserving the otherness and sovereignty of God.  Though submission to the Christ-event is wholly fulfilling, it is not--in the first response--fulfillment that drives our submission.  Though submission is to something "wholly Other," it is not a bowing down to a foreign power (which is at the heart of a religion such as Islam), but it is a sort of decentering of self when confronted with a sort of "hyper-beauty," the appearance of glory.  It is, nevertheless, a true submission, a recognition that we "could not construct its beauty on our own," yet it is a recognition that this Christ-form we see "transcend[s] our previous standards of beauty.  While there remains discontinuity between the nature of divien and earthly aesthetic claims, the heightened claim of the divine object is matched by its power to draw forth a human response of love."  Steck, 82.  We are not called to respond with a "Herculean attempt to meet its claim" (which would be a sort of Pelagianism), bur rather to respond with a "single-hearted recognition of its glory and majesty."

Succinctly: Von Balthasar's ethics might be reduced to the following: Deus pulchrum est!  Venite adoremus!  God is Beauty!  Come! Let us adore Him!

*As Steck makes clear, Barth also recognized the beauty of the Christ-event, but he did not give it the emphasis that von Balthasar did.  "While both Barth and von Balthasar maintain the appropriateness of describing God's work in Christ as 'beautiful,' only von Balthasar pursues the full implicatdions of a characterization for ethics."  Steck, 81.  The matter is further treated by Steck in pages 81 through 82 amply supported by citations from Barth's Church Dogmatics, but will not be elaborated here.
**Steck suggests that this distinction between Barth and von Balthasar is even more fundamental than the well-known dispute between Barth and von Balthasar on the notion of analogy of being (analogia entis).  Steck, 82.
***Steck cites in footnote 56 (on page 186) Paul Tillich's definitions of autonomy, heteronomy, and theonomy.  This is a very serviceable definition and will therefore be quoted here.  "Autonomy asserts that man as the bearer of universal reason . . . is his own law.  Heteronomy asserts that man, being unable to act according to universal reason must be subjected to a law, strange and superior to him.  Theonomy asserts that the superior law is at the same time, the innermost law of man himself, rooted in the divine ground which is man's own ground."  Steck, 186 (quoting Paul Tillich's The Protestant Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948) (trans., James Luther Adams)).  In his encyclical Veritatis splendor, John Paul II makes a very similar distinction, though John Paul II takes about "participated theonomy."

Friday, June 22, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Ignatian Influence

FOR HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, the ethical response to Christ may be best likened to an aesthetic response to the theodrama of the Christ-event, in particularly to the revelation of God's glory in Christ on the cross. The aesthetic experience is a sort of "heuristic lense" or analog of the ethical response.  This response is a dynamic response, one ultimately that brings forth a loving response, perhaps first one founded in eros, dilectio, but one soon perfected in agape, caritas. There is love on both ends of the equation as man confronts the divine beauty, a love up and a love down: an Augustinian Neo-platonic love up which meets up with a Biblical kenotic love down.

In confronting and responding to the beauty, the glory that is found in the Christ-event, we put ourselves off-balance, as it were.  We must leave an ego-centrism and become other-centered.  At the same time, the movement is not uni-directional.  The Word of God, incarnate in Christ--indeed God the Trinity acting through the Word of God incarnate in Christ--has also in a manner of speaking become "other-centered."  God leans to us, as much (or perhaps more) a we lean to him.  "It is a fundamental principle of von Balthasar's aesthetics that human fulfillment is not found in an ek-static, one-directional movement of love toward the beloved.  Rather it is found in a bipolarity of receptivity and agency, as reflected in freedom's dismensions of relationality and self-possessions."  There is a certain "bipolarity" in von Balthsar's aesthetic (and, by extension, ethical) thought.

At the heart of this understanding is, if Steck is to be believed, the spiritual of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  "El hombre es criado para alabar, hacer reverencia y servir a Dios nuestro Señor y, mediante esto, salvar su ánima," states St. Ignatius in the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises.  "Man is created to praise, to reverence, and to serve God our Lord, and by doing so, to save his soul."  This simple view contains a clear bi-polarity: movement toward God and a reception of something from God (saving grace).  "For von Balthasar, these two movements reflect the bipolarity of personal love."  Steck, 77.

There is in St. Ignatius the notion of a "love up" and a simultaneous "love down."  It is phrased differently perhaps, as a love "from below" or de abajo, and a love "from above," de arriba.  But the meaning is the same, the love from below meets up with the love from above.  The Ignatian concept is without question Biblically steeped.  "The creature's surrender to God becomes a participation in God's surrender to it, and ultimately, in God's kentoic movement toward creation and its redemption."  Steck, 78.

The eros of the creature man (he has no other love) meets up with the agape love of God (he has no other love to give, except that it links up with the human eros of Christ which is in perfect conformity with the agape of the Son) and in that way, the eros gets caught up and "integrated into the divine, self-giving movement of agape (kenotic) love."  Steck, 78.

This mutual surrender is inter-personal: the personal God comes down from above, and the person of man reaches up from below.  Ultimately, there has to be a surrender or the creature to the Creator, the lover to the Beloved, but the marvel of it is that Creator has surrendered first, has loved first.

 St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Ignatian concept of response to God is a one-on-one notion.  Though it certainly does not ignore the Christian's obligation to abide by the natural moral law, it focuses one something beyond this bare minimum of obedience.  It seeks not submission to general law, but submission to the personal command of God to me.  As such, it is something that fits it with von Balthasar's command or covenantal view of ethics.

The Ignatian exercitant seeks to desire "solely according to what God our Lord will move ones will to choose."  The pilgrim seeks to have the desire, the affection to possess a created good or not to possess it with only one view in mind: según que Dios nuestro Señor le pondrá en voluntad, in whatever manner God our Lord informs his will.  This is a highly personal concept of ethics.

The ultimate ground of Christian love of the world is found [in Ignatius], not as for Augustine in the ontological participation of created things in the one goodness of God, but in the personal willing of God--a personal willing that, of course, includes God's decision to create, and his providential care of that creation. Christian love for the world contains an internal bipolarity: the movement of the creature de abajo, from below upward to the divine love and glory seen in the Christ-event, spontaneously issues forth into a movement de arriba, from above, where creation is embraced with the passion and intensity of divine love. Ethical judgmentsof the particular ways to love self, neighbor, and creation are complete and final only in light of this divine, personal willing.

Steck, 79. There is therefore a sort of indifference that must be developed to the things of this world, to creation (we must be, in Ignatian terms indiferentes).  But this is not some sort of Stoic apatheia.  This is an active effort to be indifferent so that we may use the things of this world (all of which in a certain particular way participate in the goodness of God) in the manner that God wills for us in our particular situation.  
For von Balthasar, Ignatian indifference is not so much a permanent stances vis-à-vis creaturely things, bur rather one moment in a dynamic posture toward them. Indifference moves back and forth, from an initial detachment in regard to earthly goods (in a flight from the world in order to make oneself available to divine movements), and toward a reengagement of those goods, now with the desires and love attuned to those of God.
Steck, 79.  It is here, in the middle of the indifference so that we may hear God's will, in the slight pause to our personal desires so that we have no desire, no tendentiousness, that God's will can be heard in its purity.  Once known, this personal communication of God's will is for me my will.  I am thus informed about what is my ethical norm.  It is, then, a response to a command, a command of a loving God, and interpersonal command-and-submission where eros and agape meet.  But it is not a submission to command which causes me to lose myself.  While perhaps in a way I do lose myself, it is a loss of self not in a Buddhist sense where I disappear into the Absolute, it is a loss of self in a Biblical sense where I am in the Absolute and the Absolute is in me.  "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it." (Luke 17:33; see also Luke 9:24; Matt. 10:39, Mark 8:35; John 17:25)  It is a submission which confirms my personhood, not one which destroys it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Moral Narrative

DIVINE COMMAND THEORIES OF MORALITY have a built-in problem arising from their premises. If morality is based upon God's will (and not reason), how do we link obedience to that command to human fulfillment, to happiness. Reason-based theories of morality rely on a direct relationship between the rule and nature so that following the reason-based rule, which is nothing other than conformity with God's design in nature, results in happiness. Divine command theories have difficulty aligning human happiness with God's will-based rule. It is nothing but the Euthyphro dilemma.* Does God will something because it is good, or is something good because God wills it. Reason-based moral doctrines opt for the former. Will-based moral theories opt for the latter.

As we have seen, von Balthasar's ethical theory, which is largely based upon covenant-thought, is a modified form of command-theory ethic.  Nevertheless, von Balthasar "argues that the ethical task given in God's call is precisely where human fulfillment is realized."  Steck, 72.  How does von Balthasar link the command to human fulfillment?   How does he overcome the discontinuity between the divine command on the one hand, and human obedience and fulfillment on the other hand?

"Even though von Balthasar's ethics incorporates the discontinuity between divine and human standpoints associated with divine command ethics, his ethics is ultimately teleological."  Steck, 72.  Von Balthasar, however, does not regard teleology in the traditional sense (conformity with nature's end), but rather he sees it in more personalist ways.  In general, von Balthasar views human fulfillment as "composed of two aspirations: the desire to overcome sheer and meaningless contingency and achieve a personal identity grounded in the absolute, and the desire to gain self-possession through interpersonal love."  Meaning and love.  It is the need for meaning and love that allows bridging the "discontinuity" gap between God's command and our obedience.  Obedience to the command is the only way for gaining such meaning and experiencing such love.

 "Tête à tête" by Fanny Allié

In accord with modern preoccupations, von Balthasar's ethics are more egocentric or existentialist than universal or essentialist.  They answer such questions as "Who am I?  What is my identity?  How do my finite choices establish that identity?  What role do the finite contingencies 'fated' to be part of my life have in making up my identity?"  Steck, 73.  Traditionally, Catholic thought views the matter in a more essentialist vein.  St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, focused "on the one, universal goal of all human agents and not on the unique 'I' that was in transition to the goal."  Steck, 73.  The "concern about how the unique, irreplaceable, and incommunicable core of the subject-self was to be realized in the moral life was not made an object of reflection."  The natural law, universal in character, and man's end--God was the focus.

For St. Thomas Aquinas, human fulfillment or happiness occurs as a by-product of conforming oneself to the divine plan as contained or written in one's nature.  Since all men shared one nature, all men ultimately had one and the same end: the beatific vision in God. According to Steck, there is sort of a "linear" notion in St. Thomas Aquinas that results from conformity to a rule, to a cannon, to a line. "Von Balthasar . . . interprets this purposefulness narratively.  For him, and individual's actions are given purpose by being united by and interpreted within a story that describes something 'true' about the agent-self and is therefore constitutive of the agent-self."  Steck, 73.  The moral life is not conformity to law, but participating in a meaningful story.

"Von Balthasar's ethics is teleological in this sense, that we week to fashion a completion of meaning (i.e., a narrative completion) out of the activities, accomplishments, and events of our lives.  Our ethical existence will correspond to the life story which embodies this narrative fulfillment." Steck, 74.

Since von Balthasar views ethics as "narrative," single acts do not play as much importance for von Balthasar as they do in St. Thomas and traditional ethics.  The ethical life is ultimately the amalgam, assembly, or combination of all the acts in our life's story.  "And if this life story is itself genuinely meaningful and fulfilling, then we can say that, prima facie, those actions which assist in shaping that identity are themselves good."  Steck, 74.  While as phrased, such a concept spells a recipe for disaster, we must remember that von Balthasar places this notion with the context of mission, and so the narrative of one's life is "formed around the unique christological mission given" to a person by God.  Steck, 74.

It is this link to the extrinsic concept of mission--something which comes to us from the transcendental God, the absolute God--that draws von Balthasar's ethics out of the immanent envelope of the "narrative I" and the "subject I."  Therefore, "for von Balthasar, it is becoming a 'self' [or more precisely a person] in relation to the [personal] Absolute, to relate the unique "I" that is one's identity to the [personal] Absolute."  Steck, 75.

Von Balthasar rejects any sort of incorporation theory in the sense of an individual incorporating himself either in a role or into a greater reality outside of himself.  He sees this sort of notion as confining, as trading in the person for abstractions, as robbing man of his freedom and autonomy.  The person is subordinated to something outside of him, and this bothers von Balthasar.

Rather than seeing the ethical life as conforming to something outside of one's self, von Balthasar prefers to see the entire process as a sort of invitation to the call of another: ethics are person-to-person, a tête-à-tête.  It is a tale of freedom:  

This is "God's masterpiece," to awaken through love a free response that embraces God's freedom and with it God's absolutely free "idea" for each individual. . . . We can then speak of two teleologies of human fulfillment: first, a narrative teleology where one's narrative identity is grounded in the absolute; and, second, a teleology of freedom, achieved in the interpersonal exchange [between a contingent person and the Absolute person]. The two movements both require a suspension of one's own agential aims and pursuits in order to receive what is other.

Steck, 76.

One's personal story (or narrative) and one's freedom is only fulfilled in the interpersonal exchange between the contingent person (me) and the Absolute person (God).  And in this interpersonal exchange, there is a sort of moral pause that is required of the contingent person as he listens to the invitation, to the command of the Absolute, a command that ultimately is grounded in love, love that is even self-abasing or kenotic.

*Named so after Plato's dialogue of the same name where the matter is discussed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Prophet of all Prophets on the Cross

THE NOTION OF OBEDIENCE plays an important role in von Balthasar's understanding of ethics.  However, his understanding of obedience is not a concept of submission to an external authority.  His concept of obedience is how he characterizes an authentic human response to beauty, in particular, to the beauty of the divine form in response to the divine address, a response to the glory of God expressed in the theodrama, specifically, the Christ-event.  Obedience is, in von Balthasar's view, response to God's glory, in particular God's salvific work in Christ.

The Christ-event revolutionizes the Christian and transforms his ethics.  The obediential (if also fully autonomous) response of a Christi to Jesus is one informed by thanksgiving, by gratitude, ultimately by love.

The form of the crucified love "is so majestic" that its perception "exacts" something from the beholder, an "attitude of adoration." [But it also] transfixes it: the Christian lives and acts in the horizontal but with eyes of love turned upward. The moral good now includes a contemplative dimension, not only in discerning the good but also as an essential aspect of what it means to live that good. This essential verticality opens our lives to the personal God of Jesus Christ because it is in this moral response tied to God that we are receptive to being surprised, challenged, disturbed, undeservedly called, and unexpectedly favored by God's addressing word.

Steck, 66. The vertical component is central, and von Balthasar is unwilling to bracket it from any other component of the moral life (what we might call the "horizontal" component).  It follows that a notion of "natural law" that is removed from the Cross is foreign to von Balthasar.  The Cross is too central to von Balthasar's ethics for him to engage in the notion of pure nature.  Grace is preeminent.

Interpreted in light of the New Testament, the Old Testament can be seen as prefiguring this life of obedience to God's progressive revelation to Abraham, to Moses, and to the prophets.  But this revelation was limited, as was its response.  "The word was heard, but it did not have the power to claim its hearers in the depths of their being, to open their eyes, and to enable them to embrace the truth it proclaimed."  Steck, 69.

It is at the Cross that von Balthasar finds the prefigured obedience resplendently displayed, transformed so that it demands a completely new response, a total response.  "Only here, in the Word made visible as love, and not just as "heard," does that Word claim the full and perfect response of its recipients, a response that is not only obedient but loving."  Steck, 70.

It is as if the entirety of man's salvation history--from Fall to Redemption in Christ--is played out in the life of every person who beholds Christ on the Cross.  He realizes he is fallen, that he is no longer in status naturae integrae, but rather in status naturae lapsae.  This lapsed state requires fixing, and Christ on the gross allows him to repair this lapsed status.  The beholder of the Crucified One therefore finds the means to repair what is broken.  He finds himself in status naturae reparandae, a repairing stage, a status which is intended to lead to a full fixing of his human nature into the status naturae reparatae.  And these stages occur over and over again in the Christian ethical life.  What is sinful in us is a departure from what we are, in our full integrity, intended to be. Christ helps repair that sinfulness in us, and we overcome that sin and gain a new integrity.  All this is empowered by being transfixed upon the One who is transfixed for us on the Cross.
The Christ-event is the central act of the drama, its unifying center, and the point at which the economy [of salvation] becomes a coherent drama. However, the Christ-form is perceived not only by attending to those acts prior and subsequent to the central act of Incarnation, death, and resurrection. Those acts are themselves part of the form of Christ--not in the sense of component elements but rather, in line with Irenaeus's idea of recapitulation, they are the beginning and promise to which Christ is the end and fulfillment.

Steck, 70.  It is as if we see in Christ the entirety of salvation history as manifested in the prophets.  We see the "absoluteness of God's, in contradistinction to human, measure" as proclaimed by the prophet Amos.  We see the "necessary disposition of all spheres," a life ready to be given for God's use, as we seen in Hosea.  We see "the awe and submission of that divine majesty" that is found in Isaiah, the seeming "total futility" of mission as we find in Jeremiah, and the "surrender . . . [of] very self to the mission he was given," such as we see in Ezekiel.  Jesus is the sum total of the prophets.

Again, obedience to command is central to the Christian ethical life in von Balthasar's ethical construct.  And just as the prophets were, in varying ways, obedient to their call, to their mission, so also do we find this in pure form expressed in Jesus, since the "earthly obedience of Christ includes these elements of prophetic obedience" manifested by Israel's earlier prophets.  Steck, 71.

The Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland

It must, however, be insisted that what we have in Christ on the Cross is not simply all the earlier prophets rolled into one.  We have that, but we have something here that is remarkably unique.  It is a one-of-a-kind event that demands obedience of another kind entirely.  Christ's obedience demands our obedience because it is historically and ontologically unique:

The obedience of Christ becomes "the place where the glory [i.e., God] may give utterance to itself" and reveal itself as "boundless self-giving love". In Christ's fidelity to the Father's will, the human word stretches to heaven and begins an unbreakable dialogue of love between the Father and sinful humanity. And as the Christian comes to share in the story of triune love, not merely as recipient off its gift but also as a real participant in the central role, so too will the Christian's life reflect the layered richness of salvation history, including the notes of the discontinuity of prophetic obedience so recapitulated in the obedient and loving surrender of the Son.
Steck, 71.

For von Balthasar, the unique sort of obedience mandated by the Christ-event is not at cross-purposes with human fulfillment.  Indeed, that obedience is intrinsic to human fulfillment.  To see how this is so, however, we need to look at what von Balthasar understands as human fulfillment.  We will look at that in our next posting.

Friday, June 15, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Command and Fulfilment

THE COVENANTAL UNDERSTANDING of morality poses some problems for theologians. Perhaps the most significant is that it risks confusing the transcendent and the immanent. How can anyone say "no," or perhaps better, how can one say anything but "yes" to the sovereign God who created heaven and earth? There is something of a difficulty in supposing that contingent being can be an equal partner in a covenant with Being Himself.  When we pray, like St. Francis did, Deus meus et omnia, my God and my all, doesn't the "all" crowd out the "my"?  How does the "my" survive at all?

To put the issue another way, how does one preserve the integrity of nature, of natura pura, once the supernatural element is superimposed as the ultimate ground of action?   How can the natural order mean anything when the supernatural order intervenes through a covenant, a one-on-one agreement, a postitive command?  Doesn't this one-on-one agreement supplant the earlier order?  Isn't all then to be governed by the terms of the covenant, and none by the pre-existing order?  Don't we run the risk of a divine positivism?

In fact, those who stress the covenantal view of God and ethics, such as Karl Barth and Jaques Ellul,* How dare we speak of an order separate and apart from God, an order that is quasi-independent of him?  If God is sovereign, so is his will, and to posit some sort of order with its own rationality offends against this sovereignty.  For this reason, both Barth and Ellul rejected any notion of the natural law.  "They go so far as to characterize the kind of human control over ethics advocated in natural law approaches as instances of sinful human pride."  Steck, 63.**

 Abraham Sacrifices Isaac by Marc Chagall

By stressing the covenantal aspect of our relationship to God, von Balthasar also tends to posit a discontinuity between the "immanent operations of reason and moral discernment."  In other words, sometimes--perhaps the best example is Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac--God may require something unreasonable of his lesser partner. 

[God's personal address] represents an ethical claim that is not grounded in the horizontal (creaturely) order or discovered by the immanent operation of human reason. It transcends these and thus can only be received through some form of obedience (e.g., submission, assent, consent).

Steck, at 63.  In tension with this, von Balthasar also argues that such discontinuity between the transcendent God who commands and the immanent man who obeys the command (and therefore potentially if not actually turns back on the immanent order of nature) does not reduce the creature's integrity; rather, it serves to promote it and to fulfill it.  In this manner, von Balthsar tries to put a cushion between God and man so as to preserve human autonomy and creative freedom.  Man must be more than a slave who has no will but God's will, who has no reality of his own but God alone.  Even if his will is subordinate to God's he has something freely to subordinate.  Some question whether von Balthsars effectively does and remains with the Catholic ethical tradition.

How does von Balthasar, who focuses on a covenantal ethic (which works on a person-to-person command, and not a universal law basis) preserve the integrity of the human order?  Specifically, how does the requirement of man's obedience to the covenantal command preserve man's freedom and integrity?

To answer this question, we must look at von Balthasar's notion of command, notion of obedience, and see how he puts the two together so that obedience-to-command (what von Balthasar understands as mission) preserves and fulfills the lesser partner to the covenant.  We may wonder whether von Balthasar is successful, or whether his form of the divine command theory goes astray from the Catholic tradition.
*Of course, neither of these two men wrote within the Catholic tradition.  Barth was more or less Calvinist and wrote clearly within the Reformed tradition; Ellul was rather idiosyncratic and is frequently characterized as a Christian anarchist.
**All is grace for them.  But if all his grace, what is grace saving?  Isn't there a nature (and hence an order) that grace (and its order) is saving?  Grace isn't saving nothing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Divine Drama and Divine Command

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR'S thoughts regarding aesthetics and our response to beauty (which is an analogy to our response to the glory of God) and its extension in the the dramatic art form (which is an analogy for understanding the "theodrama" of the Christ-event in its Trinatarian aspect) interplays with his voluntaristic or "divine command" ethical thought and so colors it and distinguishes it from more naked theories of divine command ethics such as Karl Barth's theory (which relies, of course, on its Calvinistic antecedents).

For von Balthasar, "the Godhead is already dramatic life, [and] God can encompass our drama into the divine dram.  This is the meaning and fruit of the Christ-event.  The drama of revelation is a new moment in the already existing drama among the processions" between the three persons of the Trinity.  Steck, 61.

A divine command theory of ethics "holds that the goodness of at least some acts depends in a nontrivial way on God's will."*  Steck, 59.  Von Balthasar appears to hold to a divine command theory of ethics, but it is radically colored or oriented by his  "divine address" theory.  Von Balthasar's divine command theory revolves around the address of God in the dramatic Christ-event.

"For von Balthasar and Barth, the new relationship that Christ effects between God and the human person is not at all peripheral to daily existence, but rather is an essential part of our manner of being in the world."** Steck, 59.  It, of course, involves a deeply personal encounter between one man and the one God.  It is an I-Thou ethic. 

Like any relationship, this divine-human relationship implies interchange, address, and response. And if our covenantal relationship with God is constitutive of our identity as a human person . . . then it follows that the address given us by God and our response to it affect us to our core; they establish us as persons.***

God's address to us in Christ, then, is not something extrinsic to us.  It is not simply carrying out something that God wishes; rather, it is something constitutive to the person, something that confirms us as persons, something that allows us to realize ourselves as persons in an authentic way.

Christ Calls Peter and Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna 

The notion of God addressing the human person in Christ is according to Steck something that fits neatly with a divine command theory of ethics, and this for a number of reasons.  First, divine ethics "understands moral action in terms of a response to God's personal call," and so shares in the quality of call-and-response that is central to Von Balthasar's view of the Christ-event.  It seems to be "word-based," not "thing-based" or "good-based."  Viewing the ethical life as call-and-response gives a personalistic ring to ethics, emphasizes the freedom in response, and avoids viewing ethics as involving obedience to "some kind of impersonally valid natural law."  (Steck, 60) (quoting TD2.292)  A command is different than a law.†

Second, a divine command theory is more easily fitted into a covenantal frame of reference.  The Christ-event is at root an invitation to a covenant, an invitation by a sovereign God to an insignificant man to participate in the Trinitarian life of God.  For von Balthasar, "obedience is not only a creaturely submission to God but also a participation in Christ's receptivity to the Father's will."  Steck, 60.  Such participation expands our personhood as it participates in divine personhood and so is ultimately freeing.  "[T]he address to the human existent, like the address of the Father to the Son, is autonomy-granting, personalizing, and indivudalizing."

This intimate, concrete, and covenantal view of von Balthasar's ethics makes it more mission-like.  The command that invites us into the Trinitarian life also invites us to share in the one mission of Christ.
God addresses humanity not only universally but personally, giving each of us a christological "name" that constitutes our idenity and the norm of our conduct. Thus, in describing divine desires for the human agent, von Balthasar rarely uses Barth's favored term, "command," preferring instead terms such as "call," "will," and "address," which have less punctualistic and occasionalistic connotations.

Steck, 60. 

A big distinguishing factor between Barth's ethics and von Balthasar's ethics may be what Barth (disparagingly) called the "damned Catholic And," das verdammte Katholische Und.††  In Barthian ethics, man is nothing next to the sovereign and infinite God.  In von Balthsarian ethics--which are founded within the Catholic tradition--man has his nobility even ad coram Dei. when face-to-face with God.  "For von Balthasar, however, the "And" is part of the glory--the "masterpiece," as he calls it--of God's act of establishing a covenantal relationship."  God "lifts up a genuine dialogue partner, by creating a space where divine and human freedom can encounter one another, without the latter becoming a moment in the former."  Steck, 61.

"The contingent, free [and autonomous] yes to God's address is the place where God's glory shines through in the earthly.  Eliciting this free yes is the goal of the divine drama in Jesus Christ."  Steck, 61.
*This definition given by Steck seems to prove too much, as it suggests that all theologically-based ethical theories are voluntaristic or divine command theories.  For the will of God to be trivial (which would be required to have a theory that is not based upon divine command, i.e., one based upon God's reason or ratio) is close to suggesting that such theories must hold that the natural moral law is untied to God's will, which comes close to saying that God's will is irrelevant in morality. 
**This, of course, is true for any Christian-based ethic. 
***This seems like a problematic formulation.  The address by God to us through Christ does not "establish us as persons."  We are persons by God's creative act (persons by nature) before God addresses us in Christ.  We are  a person that Christ saves, not a thing saved to be a person.
†A command without law (i.e., not placed within a greater context of law or reason) runs the risk of being arbitrary.  Hence the danger of divine command theories, which tend toward occasionalism.
††I haven't been able to find where this is in Barth's writings.  However, it is quoted (without reference) by Hans Küng in his Theologie im Aufbruch: eine ökumenische Grundlegung as the Barthian response to the Catholic insistence that Revelation is found in both Scripture and Tradition ("das verdammte katholische Und").  See also the translation of that work, Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View (the "damned Catholic And").

Monday, June 11, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Second Triad

THE SECOND TRIAD THAT VON BALTHASAR identifies in the dramatic form is one of presentation, horizon, and audience. These three aspects are part of the "dramatic realization."  These are features which distinguish the dramatic form from other forms of communication.  Presentation refers to the fact that dramas are performed for someone or some group.  Audience refers to the fact that dramas are observed by individuals, and that this observance is not simply passive observance, but some sort of expectative, active, participative observance.  Finally, horizon refers to the fact that there is a larger "horizon" or picture that ties together all the characters of the plot and in which the audience itself participates.

The theodrama of the Christ-event may be viewed under these three aspects: presentation, horizon, and audience.

The dramatic form is something that is fundamentally human.  Man has had a penchant for acting things out, and so the dramatic form seems to be a response to, or an expression of a fundamental human need.  What is this need? Why this form? 

Man has a need that is satisfied by the dramatic form, and so we find the dramatic form everywhere man has flourished.  Most fundamentally, the dramatic form seems to provide men and women with a means to communicate truths about human existence.  For this to happen, there has to be a participation between the audience and the play.  There must be a blurring between the play and audience so that the audience in some way internalizes the play and is able to recognize the events being acted out as "patterns of possibility" in its own life.  There is therefore a communication, a shared participation, in some sort of truth of human existence.  It takes the audience out of its mundane life and introduces it into the life of the play.

Presentation is of course the "address" of the play to the audience.  In the theodrama of the Christ event, this is the divine address.  Philosophy has no such divine address, and so it is unable to accomplish what drama is able to accomplish.  "God's dealing with the world provides, in dramatic form, the ultimate horizon for judging values and goods, and ultimately ourselves as moral agents." Steck, 57. 

The Christ-drama also draws us into itself.  We are able to enter into the Christ-drama because we recognize our own individual drama, our own life, in the life of Christ.  He is, after all, human, and it is this common bond which allows us to recognize and to relate to it.  The "divine play invites us to see our play in its light."  But it also adds an element of hope, as it suggests to us that we are not heirs to a "pitiless destiny," to some fatalistic, deterministic fate.  Rather, we are furnished with the hope that the world--both the world of Christ and our world--is governed by grace, by forgiveness, and, ultimately, with meaning.

"Through Christ and in him, the Christian is given a 'stage' on which to act and a story to give that acting a coherent form."  Steck, 57.  God's narrative--the story, the drama of Christ--becomes our narrative.  This not only in the manner that we can identify similarities between our narrative and Christ's (suffering injustice, pain, tribulation, etc.) but also in a manner that we can supersede or perhaps better correct our own (repentance, forgiveness, etc.).  The imitatio Christi becomes a means by which our narrative may be better fitted into the divine Narrative. This is the horizon of the dramatic event of Christ. 

The response called for by the Christ-drama is, of course, unique to this theodrama.  It calls for a response in faith.  "The faith that it awakens leads [the spectator] out of his spectator seat in the ardent hope that this narrative can be his own, that his identity can be one of it."  Steck, 58. 

The Holy Spirit is a participant in this.  "The voices and responses of human creatures can be included in God's life," and in his drama, "because that life," or that drama, "is already a communion of voices absolutely united in the Spirit."  The Holy Spirit takes the weak human word and amplifies it, as it were, so that it may in some way work it into the divine drama.  The Spirit does this by incorporating us into Christ, the person who is the "divine-human interchange."

Friday, June 8, 2012

God's Glory Appears: From First Triad to Trinity to the Moral Life

THE MOST FRUITFUL WAY to understand the Revelation of God to man in Von Balthasar's eyes is to understand it as a sort of dramatic event, a particular, one-of-a-kind dramatic event, a "theodrama." Understood through the lens of this "dramatic form" allows us to gain the full Trinitarian aspect of God's revelation in Christ.

Von Balthasar identifies two "triads" that are intrinsic to the dramatic form and so may be found to exist in the theodrama.  The first triad is author, director, and actor.  The second triad is presentation, horizon, and audience.

Just like plays have an author, a director, and actors, so does the theodrama have this triad.  For von Balthasar, this is a "perfect metaphor for the economic Trinity in the theodrama."  (Steck, 55, quoting TDI 3.352)  In other words, what we have here is a pattern or analogy for understanding the Triune God, not in His transcendency (ad intra), but in his expression to the created world (ad extra). 

God the Father is the "author who shapes the drama and makes sure than it has its intended effect on the audience."  Steck, 55.  While he does this, he also must rely upon and grants a certain freedom and spontaneity to the director and actors in performing the work.  While the actor in one perspective "stands above" the director and the actor, he also must "cherish their autonomy."  Steck, 55 (quoting TD 1.280)

The Son of God is "the actor who makes real the author's dramatic idea."  Steck, 55.  While he is bound in a manner to the author's script, he is also designedly free to apply it in a non-mechanistic or non-manneristic way, as the author, God the Father, has necessarily left room for freedom of expression within his work.

The Holy Spirit is for von Balthasar the director, who takes the author's text, interprets, and allows it to speak "in a living and spiritual manner," by "prompting, inspiring, and organizing the actors as they bring their talents and energies to their respective roles."  Steck, 55.

 Trinity by Lucas Cranach the Elder

So, to put it all together, "God the author brings the dram 'into being as a unity'; God the actor conceives and executes his role 'on the basis of a single, unified vision.'; and God the director comes up 'with a unified vision embracing both the drama (with the author's entire creative contribution) and the art of the actors (with their very different creative abilities).'"  Steck, 56 (quoting TD 1.268, 284, 298)

To view Jesus as the divine "actor" in this theodrama allows us to view him further as an actor in a form of tragedy.  He is, as it were, a personification of the Greek tragic figure "who now does what Greek tragedy could never do: tie the contingent to the absolute in a universal way that stamps every existent with its pattern."  Steck, 56.  Jesus overcomes the limitations of philosophy (its universal, non-concrete quality) and the limitations of Greek tragedy or myth (its contingency, its lack of basis in reality).  Jesus is the "concrete universal."  Steck, 56.  (Jesus as the "concrete universal" is another way of stating the historical, ontological, and religious "scandal of particularity" we find in Jesus.)

The reason Jesus is the "concrete universal" is that he "opens for the finite, historical creature a stage in which his finitude is granted eternal (absolute) meaning."  The infinite absolute and universal become man in a contingent, particular, concrete existence in the Incarnation.  This bound together into one divine person both the universal and concrete, both God and man, the Uncreated Absolute and the created particularity.  It thus allows man to overcome his contingent existence and through this "concrete universal" himself become part of the absolute.

As we stated in our last posting, von Balthasar's view of the Christ-event as a sort of theodrama, and this triadic division of the theodrama into author-actor-director is wed to his Christian ethics.  "Whatever form of divine command ethics appears in von Balthasar, it must be interpreted in light of a God who 'authors' our play and give us our (christological) roles but who also makes room for our contribution as we are prompted by the Spirit."  Steck, 56.  Succinctly, the moral life is participation in the theodrama.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Theodrama

IN PRIOR POSTS WE HAVE SEEN how beauty in nature, particularly in persons, requires not only an openness on the part of the recipient, but a receptiveness to the form of the beautiful object, and a giving of self to the other, all within the envelope of freedom, therefore resulting in a sort of dialogue, a loving exchange, that leads to communion between one person and the other. It is more akin to a mutual self-giving. "[T]he beauty of this form reflects the aesthetic rightness of the mutual exchange of gift given and gratefully received. The epiphany of goodness, we can suggest, is a theophany in earthly form of the triune life." Steck, 50.

So there is for von Balthasar implicit in every authentic human response to beauty a trinitarian aspect.  But though this may be a sort of theophany, it is not, strictly speaking, Revelation.  Our reaction to beauty, however, provides us an analogy for our reaction to the divine beauty, i.e., God's glory.  It provides us therefore a fitting model of how humans ought to response to Revelation.

Revelation--which is a manifestation of the divine beauty or glory of the Lord--is encountered when we have a manifestation of the divine love, specifically "the triune nature of God's love."  Revelation also must contain and effect "God's covenantal intent to include the individual human existence in God's triune love."  Steck, 51.  There is always the possibility of human static in "seeing" God's glory revealed, in choosing another good, or as a result of a disordered soul which hides in its shell of egoism.

To overcome the static, the disordered egoism in our soul which makes us incapable of proper response to God's glory revealed, God must enter history in a "dramatic form," specifically, the form of tragedy.  It is tragedy that is the dramatic form by which God reveals his glory, and so it is tragedy that is "the great, valid cypher of the Christ event." Steck, 51 (GL4.101)

This dramatic form is something more than philosophy, and certainly something entirely other than myth.  Philosophy deals in universals, not particularities.  While myth has the advantage of being open to revelation from above and a sort of particularity, in its Greek form it reached a dead end.  There was "darkness" and "absence" in and ultimate impersonal.  The Greek gods are "above" us and never "with us."  That is why philosophy replaced myth in Greece.  However, philosophical truths do not result in a one-on-one encounter, and do not lead to a communion of giver, gift, and receiver of the gift.  So something other than philosophy and something more real than myth is required for the true God to reveal his glory.  The dramatic form allows for an interpersonal encounter, which is real, and so exceeds the general, impersonal encounter with philosophical truths and the unreal encounter with myth.

 The Oberamagau Passion Play

The dramatic form, however, does borrow the "encounter from above" that is found in myth, but in Revelation the unreal aspect of the myths of men is exchanged for the real aspect of God's glory being revealed.  Ultimately, this is done through tragedy. 

In drama, human action is interpreted in light of some overarching meaning that bestows a final and authoritative judgment on the agent's free historical choices of limited values and goods. The capacity of the dramatic form to interpret concrete existence makes it a particularly appropriate tool of a theological aesthetics. The dramatic story of Christ--what von Balthasar calls the "theodrama"--is the horizon in which the Christian interprets his concrete story. Like the beautiful form, the theodrama awakens a particular response on the part of the person by inviting him to interpret his life in terms of the absolute horizon of covenantal love.

Steck, 53. When Christ reveals himself in the theodrama of the Christ-event, we do not abandon the "'aesthetic lens, but rather move from an 'iconic' aesthetics to a 'dramatic' one."  Steck, 43.  From stasis to dynamis.  The theodrama of the Christ-event is dynamic in the fullest sense of the word since it is dynamic in terms of He who reveals his glory and he who receives the glory of the One revealing.  "God has brought into drama of triune life the drama of fallen human existence, so that 'our play 'plays' in his play."  Steck, 54.   So it is that God enters into our world.

That is why the Christ-event must not be seen only as a Christological event (Christ-in-man), but also as a Trinitarian event (God-in-Three-Persons).  The Trinitarian eternal "play" plays in our temporal "play."  It is a remarkable event wherein God as judge suffers the humiliation of allowing Himself to be judged.  God judges the God-man, and so "something akin to drama is played out between the sovereignty of [God's] judgment and the humiliation whereby he allows himself to be judged," and the voices of the judge and the judged, "are both united and kept distinct by a third, ineffable voice."  Thus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Christ . . . [w]e see in this life a God who allows the distance between Father and Son to become the distance of sinful alienation in order that it be overcome through the ever greater unity of divine love.

Steck, 55.

In a sense, there are two "dramas" in the Christ event: the "economic drama," which is the salvific activity of God to man, but there is also the "triune drama" where God reveals his internal life.  There are therefore two separate "triads" associated with a play and likewise with the theodrama.  The first such triad is author, director, and actor.  The second triad is presentation, horizon, and audience.  To grasp these two triads as occurring in the Christ-event is important, because von Balthasar uses the triads as metaphors to help us understand the "economic Trinity," as well as "the manner in which God accomplishes his reconciliation with humanity, without compromising divine transcendence or human freedom."  Steck, 55.  They are also important points of reference in understanding our response to the Christ-event and therefore in understanding the moral life. 

We shall explore these triads a little further in our next posting.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Holy Spirit as "Liquefaction" of Christ

VON BALTHASAR'S MORAL THEOLOGY is Trinitarian in focus. It follows that he puts equal emphasis on the three persons of the Trinity is understanding the Christian's moral life. The Holy Spirit is "the cohesive force of the drama of salvation and the 'agent' who brings it to its fulfillment." Steck, 48.

Von Balthasar does not see the Spirit as something that propels us into the Trinitarian life like the wind billows up the sails of a sail boat. Rather, he sees the spirit as something that propels us from within, perhaps more like the wind through a flute that elicits beautiful sounds.  This Spirit works inwardly, as it were, opening "our eyes to see the beauty, the glory, of the Christ-form and thus engenders in us a willingness, 'called faith,' where we 'allow love to have its way.'"  Steck, 48 (quoting GL7.401) 

Living in the Spirit is therefore not a self-abasement or self-neglect.  Rather "to be 'in the Spirit' . . . means to make this active and dramatic law of love the law of one's active existence."  To be sure, it requires a self-surrender, the surrender of faith.  But this surrender allows the "rhythm of the Spirit to become our rhythm," and it allows us to "enter into the kind of participation in divine life that God has made possible for us."  Steck, 48-49.

To live in the Spirit is to participate in the triune life of God.  Life "in Christ" is not possible except by life "in the Spirit."  This dynamism is viewed by von Balthasar thus:

We might say that the Incarnation introduces human nature into the Godhead, and, in turn, God brings the Christian into the triune life "in Christ." The incorporation into Christ is accomplished through the Spirit. In the Spirit we too face the eternal Father in praise and adoration.
'[T]he dialogue [of prayer] is not between our spirit and the Pneuma, but between our spirit, borne by the Pneuma, and the Father, a dialogue in which the Pneuma cannot be other than the Pneuma of the Son, in whom we have come to sare in sonship . . . [and are] drawn into the event of the eternal generation of the Son.'
Steck, 49 (quoting GL.7.405)
Cumean Sybil by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino) 

Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo:   
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.
Tu modo nascenti puero, quo ferrea primum
desinet ac toto surget gens aurea mundo,
casta fave Lucina: tuus iam regnat Apollo.    

 The last age of the Cumaean Sybil's song has come.
The mighty sequence of ages is born and begins anew.   
 Now the Maiden returns. The reign of Saturn returns.
Now a new generation descends from heaven on high.
At the birth of the child in whose time the iron race
shall cease and a golden race inherit the whole earth,
smile, O chaste Lucina: now your Apollo reigns.

--Virgil, Eclogue IV.3-10

There is a tendency to view the Holy Spirit as a sort of "force" or "faceless God."  To be viewed correctly, however, it must not be forgotten that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, a "personal Other."  Nor, however, must the doctrine of "appropriation" be forgotten.*  The role of the Spirit is essentially one to set us free.  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  (Gal. 5:1)  The Holy Spirit is at the center of this God-granted freedom:
The Spirit bestows the freedom, spontaneity, and creativity of divine love by gracing Christians--and even non-Christians--with the gifts and apostolic tasks that will, in turn, 'personalize' them and allow their unique share in the one mission of Christ.
Steck, 49.**

It is the Spirit that allows the Christian disciple to effect the imitatio Christi, to live "in Christ."  Indeed, in a vivid image, von Balthasar sees the Holy Spirit as the person of God who "liquefies" Christ, so that the "historical Christ" is brought out from his one-time and one-place into a "universal reach," thus "granting the believer access" to Christ "through a simultaneity of mission."  (Steck, 49-50) (citing TD3.38-39) 

The Holy Spirit acts ad intra (within the Trinity) and ad extra among men.  This role is symphonic:

The Sprit is the bond of the free and personal exchange of love first and foremost between the Father and Son [ad intra]. But the Spirit also effects this creative and free bond between God and human person [ad extra]. In the presence of the Spirit, the human response is given divine breadth. . . . The Spirit bridges and resolves the disparities between the divine and human.

Steck, 50.

The Holy Spirit is not impeded by our limits or our sinfulness,*** but indeed overcomes them.  Thus the Spirit "is the guarantor that the good and loving elements in the Christian's actions, always touched by human perversity, will be made a cohesive part of God's work of salvation."  Steck, 50.

*For the doctrine of appropriation see here.  Essentially, however, appropriation is the doctrine that God's actions ad extra are shared among all persons of the Trinity; however, particular actions, though engaged in by all three persons of the Trinity, may be associated with one particular person of the Trinity. 
** In a footnote, Steck states the following: "The freedom of the Spirit 'to blow where he wills' extends beyond the bounds of the visible church. The Spirit can thus 'spread God's graces and secret revelations even outside the visible Church.  The Church of the earliest period certainly knew all this, and it is humiliating for us to have to learn it anew after so many centuries of at least partial forgetting.'"  Steck, 175 (quoting von Balthasar, "Council of the Holy Spirit," in Creator Spirit, 262-630. This is a truth which can be overemphasized to the point of destroying the importance of the Church and the Christian dispensation, making it boundary-less, but which can also be under-emphasized so as to view the Church as a sort of bottle where the Spirit does not work outside of the Church.  One should remember that in the Middle Ages, both the Cumaean Sibyl and Virgil--pagans both--were considered prophets of the birth of Christ.  The fourth of Virgil's Eclogues was viewed as having a Messianic prophecy. In the fourth of Virgil's Eclogues, the Cumean Sybil foretells the coming of a savior.  Christians viewed this as a prophetic intimation of the coming of Christ.  For this reason, Dante selected Virgil as his guide through the underworld (but not in Paradise!).  In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted the Cumean Sybil with the Old Testament prophets.  To suggest from the fact that the Holy Spirit works outside the borders of the visible Church that the Holy Spirit works with all fullness outside the confines of that visible Church, however, would be error.  It would be to pit Christ's Body (into which we are incorporated) against the Holy Spirit (who works against incorporation).  Similarly, one must not forget that some Churches (such as the Orthodox Church) have valid apostolic succession and priesthood, and so valid Sacraments, even though they are outside the unity of the Catholic Church.  Surely the Holy Spirit is present to confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in such Churches?  Finally, it has always been held that anyone--even an unbaptized person can baptize another; thus being a conduit for the Holy Spirit. But this same Spirit who works outside the walls of the Church, must also be seen as constantly endeavoring to bring those outside the confines of the Church into the Church's fullness, and never as endeavoring to take souls outside of the Church.
***An example of this might be the fact that even a priest in mortal sin can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist since the sacrament is confected ex opere operato. The sin of the priest does not present an obstacle the Holy Spirit cannot overcome.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Living "in Christ"

VON BALTHASAR'S ETHICS ARE PAULINE. They heavily rely on the prevalent notion of St. Paul of living a life "in Christ," ἐν Χριστῷ. This phrase (or synonymous phrases such as "in the Lord" (ἐν κυρίῳ) or "in him") are peppered throughout St. Paul's letters, and they clearly envision an incorporation in Christ as do the related formula "with Christ" (σὺν Χριστῷ), "through Christ" (διὰ Χριστῷ), "of Christ" (Χριστοῦ), "for the Lord" (τῷ κυρίῳ) and the like which are also found in St. Paul's epistles. These might be called the "incorporationist formulae" of St. Paul and it is central feature of his moral theology.

The term is both indicative and imperative.  That is, it is used to both express an existing truth and a truth to which we must strive as an ideal.  Perhaps this notion is best encapsulated by the notion of "be what you are."   We are incorporated into Christ, so we ought to act as Christ. 

There are three aspects which may be gained from St. Paul's teaching and which prevail in von Balthasar's ethical theories.

First, the formula "in Christ" clearly envisions an intimate union between the individual Christian (and the Church) and  Christ. It is Christocentric.  This is a vital, symbiotic union, one which is of dynamic influence.  Indeed, St. Paul expresses this symbiosis, this dynamism in language that is reciprocal, where we ebb into Christ and he ebbs into us, to the point that there is a union of persons that can hardly be separated.  "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me," St. Paul says in Galatians 2:20.  Von Balthasar shares in this Pauline idea, and sees, moreover, like Paul, the Eucharist as being its highest expression.  (1 Cor. 10-11; TD3.24) (Steck, 47)

The second aspect is what effect incorporation into Christ causes the individual Christian.  It is Christomorphic.  Here we come into the notion that incorporation into Christ results in Christ's image being put in man.  The Christian becomes an image, an icon (εἰκών) of the risen Christ. We are "to be conformed to the image of the Son" (τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ).  (Rom. 8:29)  We are therefore to imitate Christ, his poverty, his obedience, his humility, his willingness to suffer for others.  Within this notion is comprehended the imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ.

 Ite, missa est.  
Go forth on your mission to bring the world to Christ!

Yet for von Balthasar, there is something more than incorporation and imitation in the Christian's ethical life.  A third aspect is complementary of the above two aspect.  Our incorporation into Christ, our efforts to become an image of Christ, both lead to the fact that were are to participate in the mission of Christ.  In von Balthasar's words: "For Paul [his being seized by God] means that he must respond to Christ's personal love by surrendering to him in faith and by devoting himself to his apostolic mission.  Thus en [i.e., 'in Christ'] becomes syn ['with Christ'], a participation in Christ's dying and rising and in his work (synergoi)."  Steck, 48 (quoting TD3.247)

Part of Christian living is "making Christ visible," and this task, this mission is part of all those who share in the one body of Christ, by incorporation, through the Eucharist, through conforming themselves to the Lord.

Ite missa est.  Go!  You are sent forth!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Admirabile Commercium

IN PRIOR POSTINGS, we have addressed the relations among the persons of the Trinity, the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the mission of Christ. These three components are all important in von Balthasar's ethical theory because the Christian is incorporated into Christ and through this incorporation shares in a manner of speaking in these three components. This "new life in Christ" is at the heart of the Balthasarian ethical enterprise.

Von Balthasar's ethics are deeply Christocentric:

Christ stands at the center of the drama of salvation, and he does so in such a way that he gathers and realigns all the other themes, images, and events of revelation. Christ is the one "who upholds the creation and is its justification." He is "the ultimate meaning of the whole creation and as the revelation of the Father inherent in it from the beginning."

Steck, 43.  Christ must be understood within the context of salvation history, starting from the proto-evangelium forwards.  All of these point to and culminate in the Paschal Mystery.  It is Paschal Mystery that becomes the "heuristic key for all salvation history."  The Paschal Mystery extends beyond the Cross, and embraces the entire Triduum: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

What Christ did is at the heart of everything.  One must begin with the Incarnation itself.  The Incarnation is that marvelous event where the Son of God took on "the human condition radically, deciding out of divine freedom to give himself over in kenotic self-abandonment and to make the burden of finite freedom his own."  Steck, 44.  God therefore "bridges the chasm of human alienation not through an eternal decision lying solely within the Godhead . . . [but] steps dramatically onto the stage of human existence and brings the drama of triune life to it, in order to lead the human drama, from within, to God's ordained conclusion."  Steck, 44.

But this kenosis of God through the person of the Son, who deemed equality with God nothing to be grasped at, is marvelous in its plenitude.  Christ takes onto himself the entire experience of man: physical pain, unjust suffering, unjust death.  The bloody death of Christ is no "bloodless myth," but a full participation in the wrath of God and the demands of the covenant.*  Christ takes unto himself the descent into Hell where he "endures the full consequences of this condition, living in solidarity with sinful humanity and thus sharing their dreadful alienation from God." Steck, 44.

Christ's mission is to beckon, woo, draw "broken existence into the fullness of trinitarian life."  It is more than some forensic declaration of righteousness.  It is the "incredible gift of incorporating the human life into divine life."  Steck, 45.  To quote von Balthasar's view:
If the impossible happens; if the absolute not only irradiates finitude but actually becomes finite, something unimaginable happens to existence: what is finite, as such, is drawn into what is ultimate and eternal; what is finite in its temporal extension, in each one of its moments and their interconnection, and not merely, for instance, in its final result.

Steck, 45 (quoting TD4.132)  The result of God becoming creation is to incorporate creation into the Godhead.  There is a two-fold movement: a downward kenotic movement and a parallel if reciprocal movement of the "ascent of human nature into God."  Steck, 46.  This is at the heart of incorporation.  The notion of incorporation into the Godhead through Christ's incarnation is central to Balthasarian ethics:

The radicality of von Balthasar's anthropology emerges here. For he will root the subjectivity and agency of the Christian as deep within the trinitarian relations as the former's creaturely limits will allow. We are re-created, not just healed of our sinful brokenness, but raised to new, exalted status before God, or, better, in God. The insertion of the human creature into divine life is made possible only because in God there is already "other," triune other. God's relatedness to the finite creature compromises the integrity of neither party. In making the human person, one "so unfit for speech" (TD2.272), into a partner of God, God continues to be absolutely self-giving and personal love. At the same time, the human creature does not leave behind its humanity for a pseudo-divinity. Rather, the human person is lifted up--with his finitude and sinfulness--into the triune divine life as human at the point of interchange where the divine became human, that is, int he Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

Steck, 45.

This is the result of the "wonderful commerce," the admirabile commercium, between God and man in Christ.  In ethics, it is the "human side" of the admirabile commercium that is the focus.  "The Christian is incorporated into the life of Christ and thus is formed into his praxis."  Steck, 46.

Steck identifies two arguments for this participation in Christ's life as central to ethics.  The first is the Pauline notion of living "in Christ" (ἐν Χριστῷ). The second is living within the life of the Holy Spirit, which he sees as a sort of "liquefying" of Christ. Our next post shall be about this notion of living in Christ, ἐν Χριστῷ. The posting following shall be about the Holy Spirit.
*Von Balthasar rejects theories of imputation or solidarity as explanations of how the suffering death of Jesus is efficacious for man.  "The only help is to be had from the New Testament's idea of the divine love that out of love takes upon itself the sin of the world."  Steck, 44 (quoting GL7.207)