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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

God's Glory Appears: I-Thou Love

THE LAST CHARACTERISTIC of the horizontal component of Christian morality--the love of neighbor in the love of God--is that it seeks communion with the other. It is characterized by its reaching out to others.  Our neighbor is a place where we encounter God, and the communion to which we are called in God is in a manner reflected in the communion to which we are called to be with our neighbor.

Just as the relationship between God and man has been severed by the Fall but restored by Christ, so similarly has the relationship between man and man which has been severed by the Fall be restored by Christ.  We are called to love our neighbor, and this love, which expresses itself in communion, is "the fruit of the economy [of salvation] in the horizontal realm."  Steck, 118.  As von Balthasar succinctly puts it: "The divine love which is bestowed vertically by God on sinful men is glorified 'horizontally' in the love of human fellows." GL7.433.  Neighborly love ushers us into the love of God: "In brotherly love, the created world is permitted to enter the divine world." GL7.517.

This horizontal component of God's love and reconciliation is manifested in a manner in the Sacraments.  As Steck explains it:

[I]n no other place does the glory of the crucified and risen Christ shine more brightly in the Christian's life than in the eucharistic love that restores the bonds of fellowship with the alienated brother or sister. Christian love follows Christ and seeks communion with the one seemingly furthers from one: the sinner. Reconciliation is more than one in an array of praiseworthy endeavors. It is the goal that shapes the Christian's response to evil and to the fallenness of the world.

Steck, 118. Importantly, for von Balthasar, this sort of reconciliation occurs principally within the Church.  It is therefore most perfectly manifested ecclesially.

This horizontal component of love of neighbor in some way feeds the vertical component, so that loving neighbor helps or increases the love of God.  Yet the horizontal component cannot be had without the vertical component.  There is no real love of neighbor without love of God.  There is no real love of God without love of neighbor.  Each will whither without the other.

Steck identifies some "side constraints" as "a natural and necessary development" of von Balthasar's thought, although he admits that they are not "explicit" in von Balthsar's work.  He divides these "side constraints" into "agent-relative constraints" and "neighbor-relative constraints."

"Agent-relative constraints" are those which might be encapsulated in the saying "it takes two to tango."  The relationship of communion is a dual, I-Thou relationship.  One cannot be in communion with another who loses his individuality, who "allows himself to dissolve into the identity of the other."  Steck, 119.  One sees this sort of loss of self in Eastern religions, in Hinduism and in Buddhism, where complete absorption of the self into the Absolute is seen as Nirvana.  As much as the Christian doctrine emphasizes that we lose our self in the Absolute, it never suggests an extinction of self.  By losing oneself one finds oneself.  (e.g. Matt. 10:39)

Another way of looking at the "agent-relative constraint" is to realize that for there to be an I-Thou relationship there has to be both an I and a Thou.  This means that regardless of the intimacy of communion, there remains a distinction between the two persons.  "Difference, separation, and space between two individuals are required if a genuine image of the Trinity is to appear in the earthly domain."  Steck, 119.  What this means is that there is a "legitimate kind of self-regard that is essential," and so therefore is a "agent-relative constraint" "for relationship with another."  Steck, 119.

The "neighbor-relative constraints" involve the recognition that encourage the other to be what they can be.  Specifically, "the Christian cherishes what the [other] person can be before God--hence the 'side constraints' on what Christian love can aspire to accomplish for the neighbor."  There is a certain uniqueness and yet a certain universality in this "what the person can be before God."  So the understanding of it is not entirely nominalistic, but has a universal component:
The neighbor's relationship with God is one only he can choose to accept and only he can make the final discernment about what personal path God has given him to follow. Nonetheless, since all are invited into covenantal life with God and since that relationship is mediated in the present created order, we can rightly expect that the kinds of particular supports and loves for the concrete neighbor demanded of the Christian will not be nominalistic.
Steck, 120.  For example, a neighbor could not be said to claim that his personal path to God would include a homosexual relationship which includes genital expression, as such would no longer be one that acts within the created order, but acts outside of it.  Though each person's path to God is individual, it is not for that without any law or order.  Love is never lawless, though it might surely go beyond law, it certainly will not go against it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Love of Neighbor is Eucharistic

THE CHRISTIAN'S LOVE OF NEIGHBOR is eucharistic in nature. What this means for von Balthasar is that the love is radically self-giving to the other.  This love is imitative of the love of Jesus who prefers others to himself.  This eucharistic love of neighbor therefore mimics the eucharistic love of God.  However, von Balthasar does not fully equate the love of God with the love of neighbor.  While the love which expresses itself in self-giving is absolute when in reference to God, it is not similarly absolute when in reference to neighbor.  Even if not absolute, however, there is an radically-different aspect of love of neighbor that colors, indeed fundamentally affects, love of neighbor.

The Christian love of neighbor does not keep a balance sheet ("balanced settlement cease[s]," GL7.140).  It participates in the "pro nobis of Christ."  (Steck, 117, citing TD4.406)  This love, therefore, will have characteristics that might be viewed as "supererogatory," "and inversion of justice," and even "an unmerited burden."  Steck, 117.  Christian love of neighbor suffers, suffers if need be even unjustly. The love forgives wrongs.  This supererogatory, justice-inverting, unmerited, and forgiving love which is willing to suffer even unjustly is what it means to share in the cross of Christ.

Since Christian love of neighbor participates in the cross of Christ and exhibits the same sort of qualities as Christ's love for all men, it follows that the Christian love of neighbor participates in the mission of Christ.  It therefore betrays the qualities of "one who, in Christ, lives the mission of the Father and whose measure of love has its referent not in the quid pro quo of interpersonal fair play, but rather the Suffering Servant who laid down his life for him."  The entire paradigm is not one of justice, but one of self-giving love.

Love of neighbor in a sense "universalizes the Christ-event, like the Eucharist itself."  It therefore even shows itself to have liturgical qualities:

Borne by God's Spirit, the radical suffering love of the Christian makes Christ's own love visible in the broken bonds of human fellowship and his call to love audible to ears made deaf by sinful self-isolation. Christian love participates in the liturgical movement of the church's worship. Responding to God's Word, the gifts of the Christian are lifted up, so that they can be shared by the Father as eucharistic food for the neighbor.

Steck, 118.  In this regard, von Balthasar quotes Origen: "And thus every man is capable of becoming a pure food for his neighbor according to his worthiness and the purity of his intention. ... For these are mysteries of the Lord: every man has a certain food in himself."*  (Origen, Homily 7, in Lev.)

*Quoted in von Balthasar's TD5.383, Homo Creatus Est, 21, and The God Questions and Modern Man, 151.

Monday, July 23, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Hope for Neighbor

A FOURTH HORIZONTAL COMPONENT of von Balthasar's Christian ethics is the Christological hope which moves the relationship with neighbor.  The "horizontal time" in which our relationship with neighbor exists has been incorporated into the "vertical time" of God and man.  God's love is found in the life of all men: from the love that is found in creation to the love that is displayed by Christ on the cross.  Especially in the triduum--the three days wherein Christ suffered his passion, his death, and his resurrection--we find the hope of humankind.  This three-day, hope-filled event changed the horizontal relationship that men have one with another because it becomes enveloped by it:

The new meaning of human history is revealed in the entire divine economy, but especially in the Christ of the Triduum.  The no of humanity has been answered and enveloped by the costly self-giving yes of Christ.  His love dissolves the objective burden of sin, but it hopes to do more--to win back sinful human hearts by his greater love.  This radical and daring hope of triune love which inspires God's work in Christ is the meaning that God has given horizontal history. 

Steck,116.  While Christ's victory is not fully completed in the existential present, there is a completion in future, eschatological hope.  Von Balthasar's seems to lean towards a doctrine of universal salvation, in that he advances the notion that this eschatalogical hope will be fulfilled, that God's love will win out so that hope will be fulfilled and every human will respond to God's love in the end.  This notion is caged in words of hope: ""Can we say . . . that there is anxiety and anguish in the heart of God producing not 'certainty of salvation,' but something far more, namely the flower of hope?"*  Steck, 196 n. 85 (quoting TD5.290)

 The Theological Virtue of Hope

By shifting the focus from "certainty of salvation" to "flower of hope" and saying that this "flower of hope" is "something far more" than "certainty of salvation," von Balthasar might be said to advocate an even more extreme form of salvation certainty.  This "flower of hope" is a super-certainty of salvation.

God's love for all men, a love which shows itself in hope, embraces all, even the most alienated.  In von Balthasar's view, there is no room for tragedy in Christian life.  Future hope prevents any possibility of eternal tragedy.  All Christian acts that relate to neighbor will be influenced by this hope that knows no bounds.
The theological hope of the Christian is ultimately directed toward the reconciliation of all persons with God. But while this hope goes "beyond this world," it does not "pass it by" (TD5.176). Von Balthasar cites approvingly Jürgen Motlmann's observation that there is an "other face" to our reconciliation with God that "has always been short-changed" in Christian history: "the realization of an eschatological hope for justice, the humanization of man, the socialization of humanity, peace for all creation.
Steck, 117.

This hope is to be awakened in the world.  The most hopeless, the most alienated are not to be considered outside of  hope.  This hope will show itself in the Christian response to the poor and oppressed, and will express itself in the creation of "such humane conditions as will actually allow the poor and oppressed to have hope."  The hope in eternal salvation must show itself in acts that will elicit from our neighbor this hope "by creating conditions" in this world "apt to promote it."  TD5.176.   Thus it is that the work in this world for "justice" is part of the moral endeavor which is brought into the Christian mission.  It is part of our effort to work towards the salvation of souls, to reconcile the world to God.

Again, in the real of hope there seems to be a conflation or collapse of the natural and supernatural so that all the natural is supernaturalized or the supernatural is naturalized.  Earthly justice becomes inextricably wrapped up and equated with eschatalogical hope.  Von Balthasar's rejection of the grace/nature or nature/supernature distinction seems to lead to some less-than-traditional, unsettling, even disturbing--dare we say temerarious if not outrightly heretical?--views.

Along with great beauty and heart-felt Christian sentiment, there is something not quite right in the von Balthsarian formulae.

*Steck also refers to von Balthasar's controversial work Dare We Hope 'That All Men Be Saved?'  (D. Kipp and L.Krauth,trans.) (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Grateful Response to the Lord

THE CHRISTIAN RESPONDS TO the gift of God in Jesus Christ with a grateful answer of love. This response is a moral act, a moral act that distinguishes or particularizes the Christian moral response from any other.  Von Balthasar puts it simply:  "I have been 'addressed by a free loving Thou, I am both given an answer and called to give one in return.'"  There is something additional to just mere internal response: the giving implies a task.  "'[W]hat I have been given is to be transformed and freely given back.'"  Steck, 115 (quoting TD3.458).

This gratefulness extends itself to the entirety of one's life: the natural and the supernatural.  We respond to our benefactor--the Creator--by thanksgiving for the utterly gratuitous gift of being, of life.  "The complete 'why-lessness' of every creaturely form transforms its appearance into a moment of natural grace: something whose Origin and Giver life hidden has come to expression before me."  Steck, 115.

 Salvador Dali's Corpus Hypercubicus

For the Christian, the grateful response to God the Creator is multiplied by our grateful response to God the Redeemer.  "When we consider Jesus Christ, we see that God is not just personal Other [as he reveals himself in nature], but the one whose gift of forgiving love to us is absolute.":

This other, whose presence and agency lie beyond my own will, compounds his mystery by surrendering himself to me and by intentionally allowing his freedom to be tied to mine. Whatever response I will make,should it be appropriate (or aesthetically fitting), it will be enabled and guided by the gift I have received and my grateful recognition of it.

Steck, 115.   It is the absolute, self-giving, and totally depreciating (kenotic) love of God which is made manifest to us in all its hidden glory in Christ that drives from us our response, which motivates, enables, and shapes our "Yes" in response to God's "Yes."  The forgiveness which is proffered to us in Christ is the heart and center of our "Yes."  "We must learn 'what it means to be forgiven,' and respond from within that reality, not as some past accomplishment, but as an ongoing dimension of our daily existence."  Steck,116.  There is a constant "ite missa est" in the Christian response to Christ's self-giving sacrifice which purchased man's redemption and which effected our salvation, our forgiveness.

The response that this great act of love on the part elicits is not limited to the response between a man and his God.  It also colors the response of man to his fellow man.  Christ's solidarity with man should make a big difference in the manner in which I behold my fellows.  In an unusual expression of it, our neighbors' "words have been brought into the triune conversation through Christ's solidarity with them and enclosed into the one Word of God.  The neighbor's word now comes to us as a gift of God since everything 'in the created order, with the exception of sin, is enabled, through Christ, to be an expression of God.'"  Steck, 116 (quoting VB's "Characteristics of Christian," in the Word Made Flesh, vol. 1 of Explorations of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989, 176).

It is difficult to distinguish nature and supernature in von Balthasar, and this would appear to be by design since he shuns the traditional Catholic way of thinking on this matter.  While there is a point to be made (nature has a "relic" of original grace, or perhaps better a "hole" which is a relic of the original grace, since God intended to have nature and grace together in man, as it was in Adam), one fears also a collapse, where everything is grace and everything is nature.  Is Christ's death on the Cross really nothing other than a re-expression of Creation?  It is difficult to see how "nature" is raised by "grace" in von Balthasar's thought since nature is already grace and grace nature.
These temporal and limited words of pain and joy, of praise and judgment,, of understanding and direction, become God's particular word to the believer because, in Christ, God has decided to make these words part of the eternal triune conversation.They are always heard and understood within the one Word of forgiveness and mercy spoken in Christ and addressed to me and to the other, but, so heard, they are genuinely graced addresses to which the Christian is called to respond. The neighbor then is not only the recipient of Christian love but also the means in which God calls forth the Christian's response.
Steck, 116.

Friday, July 20, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Loving God in Neighbor

VON BALTHASAR LINKS LOVE OF GOD and love of neighbor to such an extent that any love of neighbor is implicitly a love of God. This aspect of von Balthasar's thought seems to be another naturalization or Christian charity arising from his rejection of traditional formulae regarding nature/supernature and nature/grace. Von Balthasar "does not make an explicit vertical reference to God a necessary condition of every act of Christian love."  Steck, 114. Therefore, the love of neighbor is a form of worship of God.  One must suppose he thinks that service of neighbor is equivalent to the Mass.

This linkage between love of God and love of neighbor distinguishes Christian love from mere humanitarianism; however, the specific Christian contribution seems extrinsic inasmuch as it results from the Christian's awareness that there is such a link.  As we saw in our last posting, von Balthasar appears to believe that any "struggle against injustice and to bring about justice in the world"--which presumably includes an act of love of neighbor--is ipso facto linked with "the God of revelation and of love and grace, whether he knows it or not."

The love of neighbor almost takes a precedence over the love of God.  Like Karl Rahner, von Balthasar seems to immanentize the love of God by equalizing it with love of neighbor.  This equivalency results in a sort of confusion of genera.  Oppression of neighbor is equated with idolatry; they are "interchangeable terms."  GL6.316.  Though perhaps von Balthasars is less eager than Rahner to raise the love of neighbor to primacy, there is a sort of auto-religious link between love of neighbor and love of God.  There is therefore a "synthesis of the two commandments," the result of the "economy of salvation," something that has not "always and everywhere been the case," but something that is the result of Christ's mission.

"Christ has given 'endless value to the human 'Thou,'" and this assumption of humanity into the Son of God through the incarnation "makes it possible for Christians to love God in loving neighbor."  Steck, 114-15 (quoting GL7.441)

Relative to Rahner, von Balthasar appears to resist a wholesale conflation between love of God and love of neighbor.  "[T]his love for God for the neighbor occurs as Christians come to see in the neighbor the God whom they have met in Jesus Christ.  Thus, 'the reflective religious act' [of the love of God] cannot be secondary because it is this act that effects subjectively what God has accomplished objectively in Christ: the unity of love of God and neighbor."  Steck, 115.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Christ is in my Neighbor

VON BALTHASAR STRUGGLES to reconcile the ethical validity of the created order with the Christian particularism that comes from the dramatic or aesthetic encounter with Christ. The effort is perhaps nowhere better seen than in the manner that he handles the issue of the love of neighbor.  In handling the issue of love of neighbor, von Balthasar has both the horizontal I-Thou relationship (man/man) and the vertical I-Thou (man/God) relationship working together.  Universalism may be found in the former; Christian particularism may be found in the latter.  The particular and the universal therefore work together.  "Because the interpersonal encounter among human persons is refashioned in Christ's light, it represents a boundary test case for the claim that creation preserves its relative autonomy within von Balthasar's Christian particularism."  Steck, 112.

In addressing the issue of love of neighbor, von Balthasar identifies six indicia (what Steck calls "aspects") of how love of neighbor ought to be reflected in the Christian.  These indicia or aspects define the "moral space" within which the Christian must act.  They appear analagous to the Barthian "formed refdrences."  Steck, 112.

We might enumerate them first, and then elaborate upon them:
  1. In the new order that Christ ushers in, the neighbor is the mediator of God's call to us;
  2. The love of neighbor to which the Christian is enjoined is at the same time a loving response to the person call of God;
  3. Christian love is responsive: it is a grateful answer to what it has received.  The Christian response is therefore to be seen not as a naked moral act, but always  as answer to God's address;
  4. Christian love is influenced or moved by christological hope for neighbor;
  5. Christian love of neighbor is eucharistic love; and
  6. Christian love seeks communion with one's neighbor.
These six features or aspects of Christian ethics as it relates to love of neighbor provide little guidance; but they might be seen as more of the spirit or animus that ought to drive the Christian in his day-to-day activities in his efforts to apply the love of God through love of neighbor.

For von Balthasar, the Christian encounters Christ in his neighbor.  This arises from the Word's assumption of human nature, an assumption which puts the Word in solidarity with mankind.  The solidarity is complete, total, without limit.  In a manner of speaking, since mankind has been assumed by the Word into the Godhead, our neighbor is in solidarity with God.  There is no man, woman, or child that remains unaffected by Christ's incarnation. 

We are therefore called to reject any sort of attitude or behavior which puts up walls, which isolates us from the other.  Anything that compromises solidarity might be seen as against God's will.  If the Lord Jesus is in solidarity with all mankind, how is it that we might act differently and be in solidarity with a portion of mankind?

There is definitely a two-way dynamic.  Christ's presents humanity in solidarity to the Godhead. Christ presents the Godhead in solidarity with humanity.  There is therefore a movement up and a movement down.  A de arriba and a de abajo.  We are called to see God as Jesus the God-Man saw God.  We are called to see man as Jesus the God-Man sees man.

 Are Saul Alinsky and Dorothy Day really doing the same thing?

The Incarnation is revolutionary, not only in terms of man's relationship to God, but also in terms of man's relationship with man:

[The incarnation] changes everything, for from now one, one's fellow man--whether friend or for--is the brother for whom Christ died . . . each individual who can be addressed humanly as "Thou" is raised to the status of a "Thou" for God, because God's true "Thou," his "chosen" and "beloved" "only Son" has borne the guilt of this human "Thou" and has died for him, and therefore can identify himself with every individual at the last judgment.

Steck, 113 (quoting GL7.439)  This is Christian particularism: how could it not be?  The Christian is given a vision of the love of God for man which is the impetus for the love of neighbor.  To reject the insight of the Incarnation in pursuit of a sort of universalism would be actually to work against the solidarity with all mankind.  An ethical universalism without Christ would be a seriously limiting vision of mankind's calling.  It would be a rejection of Christ and all he has wrought.

But something seems wrong in von Balthasar's formula.  He seems to have universalized the particular, to have naturalized the supernatural, to have conflated grace and nature, to have collapsed things when he says such things as: "whoever endeavors to struggle against injustice and to bring about justice in the world in a quite direct way with the God of revelation and of love and grace, whether he knows it or not."  (Steck, 114, quoting "Secular Piety?" in Creator Spirit, 360).  Or when he says things such as: "It follows that everything that human endeavour achieves in respect of the commission given at creation--the struggle against injustice, hunger, sickness, need and depravity, and the struggle for better conditions of life, education, wages, etc.--acquires a positive significance in view of what God has done in Christ and of the help of the Holy Spirit, and that nothing of this will be lost ultimately."  (GL7.519)

If all human effort at a better world is done "in Christ" willy nilly, then why preach Christ?  Is Mother Theresa really doing the same thing as Karl Marx?  Is Dorothy Day really doing the same thing as Saul Alinsky?  Is St. Katharine Drexel really doing the same thing as the Reverend Jesse Jackson?

No.  Despite some of the deeply satisfying portions of von Balthasar's thought, there are parts of it that simply seem dissatisfying. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam

AS WE HAVE SEEN,VON BALTHASAR RECOGNIZES at least three things about the created order--(i) agency distinct from God; (ii) the ability to read a sort of call within creation; and (iii) "created spheres" whose meaning are preserved in their encounter with supernatural grace. Von Balthasar, however, never develops an ethic using these three realities about the created order.  So von Balthasar never has any sort of natural ethics.  Whatever a natural ethic might be, von Balthasar does not tell us.  These three realities of the created order have been integrally transformed by Christ, and so the only really ethics von Balthasar knows are already baptized as it were by the Christ-event.

In presenting his ethical thinking--which is a Christian ethics only--von Balthasar betrays an Ignatian model: a contemplation to determine God's will precedes the use of any created good.  There is contemplatio: then there is actio.   The Ignatian model of action has the following elements: (i) a beholding of the situation; (ii) placing that situation within the context of the triune God and his desire to reconcile all mankind to himself; (iii) one's possible role in that labor of God to bring all men to himself; (iv) all performed for the greater glory of God.  Steck, 108-09.

Von Balthasar's ethics therefore begin with a sort of "beholding."  This "beholding" has a two-part dynamic.  First, one beholds any created good in question in the light of the theo-drama, particularly the Christ-event, where the glory of God is most revealed.  Second, one tries to discover what might one's own response when the created good is contemplated within the light of the Christ-event.  Everything is therefore beheld within the "Christ-form," which provides "a particular, christological shape" to "the general and fluid meaningfulness of the world."  Steck, 108.

[T]he Christ-even does not simply insert itself into the horizontal order and substitute itself for various meanings formerly found there (that would be to trump creation); nor does it just confirm the goodness of what is already there (that would be to eclipse the giftedness of the covenant). Rather, among the various meanings any human reality can sustain, it gently places in relief and completes the christological meaning it was always intended to bear in the one plan of God.

Steck, 109.  The will of God is therefore found in creation in a sort of stammering or stuttering way, and viewing it within the light of the Christ-event brings the stuttering or stammering into a greater connectedness.  The uncreated Word draws out what one may call the created word.  The effect of the Christ-event, however, affects the created order in different ways.  "[T]here will be some spheres in which the Christ-event 'totally eclipses' their general laws, 'practically replacing them,' but also other spheres 'whose relative autonomy persists practically untouched.'"  Steck, 109 (quoting VB's Theology of History, 20)

 The Ignatian motto: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam

Since the Christ-event affects the created order differently, von Balthasar therefore is able to separate those parts of the created order that retain their validity in an almost unchanged form (e.g., the laws of physics, literature, but even moral areas, e.g., the Golden Rule) and so apply to all men universally, and those that are particular to the Christian life (e.g., the evangelical counsels) and so apply specifically to Christians, and so are particular and not universal.  There are some areas, however, where Christ has changed things radically, e.g., the ethical response to suffering, to reconciliation, the Sacraments, the approach to death.

During his life, a Christian will of course encounter numerous goods and numerous situations, and likewise a plethora of choices.  There is no one set pattern for any one of us, but it always has two dimensions: (i) a general one, and (ii) a particular.  The first has to do with viewing all things within the light of the Gospel.  The second dimension is one that is tied to God's particular call to us.  Importantly, there must be some sort of unity in the pattern of our lives.  The Christian is called to a sort of "subjective unity," based upon God's particular design, wherein "God fashions the concrete goods of the individual's life into a meaningful, personal whole, 'like letters that form a sentence.'"  Steck, 110 (quoting VB, Christian State of Life, 82)  Within the light of the Gospel and God's particular call to us, the "fragmented goods and values of the world which occur within the field of Christian activity are reformed into a unity."  Steck, 110.

Nowhere is this unity better displayed than in our model, Jesus.  By incorporating ourselves into Jesus we likewise are able to share in this unity.  Christ's mission was to do the will of his Father, and that becomes our mission in Christ.  "The mission--the particular way God has called each of us to be an image of his Son--acts as a 'grid' to guide us in the choices that we must make among the almost endless forms of earthly goodness available for Christian embodiment."  Steck, 110.  Christ and his mission is a sort of "magnet that gives the natural orders their Christian polarization," and which "gives meaning and discrimination to [our choices] of secular ways and means."  Steck, 110-11 (quoting VB, Christian State of Life, 420).
In following the path that God has wille for them, Christians intensify the diffused glory of Christ and make the christological transfiguration of earthly goods present and real for their sisters and brothers within the Christian community and for those without. The glory that appears in one's own life then strengthens the light cast on the world by the Christian narrative and makes brighter the paths of Christian discipleship. But the Christians' first priority, the glory and praise of God, will relativize the earthly goods that are at stake in their actions . . . .

Friday, July 13, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Vestiges of Grace in the Created Order

THE CREATED ORDER (as distinguished from the order of grace) receives some attention by von Balthasar. However, von Balthasar's attention to the order of nature does not recognize, even ex hypothesi, a natura pura, or pure nature. As Noel Dermot O'Donoghue sees it "Balthasar . . . rejects the traditional concept of 'pure nature.'"* (quoted in Steck, 190, n. 30)   Von Balthasar--along with the rest of la nouvelle théologie crowd--steps out of the natura pura paradigm.

The created order, however, does contribute three significant things to the ethical life in von Balthasar's view.  First, there is a real creaturely agency, a real creaturely activity.  It remains creaturely even when it is taken up into a relationship with the Absolute.  God has seen it to be so, as there is a "divinely willed counterpart to God," a "center of activity outside of God."  Steck, 104 (quoting von Balthasars's Theology of Karl Barth, 91, 105)  This creaturely agency or activity is not effaced when it is taken up to God, but is ennobled.  Our identity does not disappear into the Absolute, as if we get absorbed into the divine substance, or as if we suffer some sort of Buddhist or Hindu nirvana.

To be effaced by getting absorbed into good and losing one's creaturely separateness would be to banish love, as love--the Trinity teaches us--requires distinction of persons.  Here is the wonderful formula: "distance for the sake of nearness, autonomy for the sake of exchange and love, irreducible otherness for the sake of genuine union."  Steck, 105 (quoting von Balthasar's Theology of Karl Barth, 126)  Grace preserves this natural separateness which is part of the created nature of man.

The second area where von Balthasar preserves a created order is in the concept that the person has been "created and equipped as a creature of nature to encounter and find God in all things."  Steck, 106 (quoting von Balthasar's Theology of Karl Barth, 153).  Of course, here we have the classic Ignatian formula:  Encontrando Dios en todas las cosas.  God can be encountered in created nature.  Indeed, in most situations this is the principal way in which we encounter God--mediately in His works, deeds, and ordinances--and not immediately, "face-to-face" as it were.  There is, at least as long as we live in this temporal world, a distance between us and the Isaiahan "hidden God."

Significantly, however, von Balthasar seems resistance to give any significance to this encounter in God in nature in a fully created order (reason); rather, this encounter with God in nature is also necessarily the result of supernatural grace.

There is a true revelation of the personal God in our surrounding world, however much the revelation comes about for the Christian only in and through its being illuminated by the particular light of the Christian narrative. As one creature, graced body and spirit, the person does not encounter God's address as something hovering over creation, as if this revelation within creation was given to human reason super-naturally, and not also given precisely within the dynamism of creation and the events of human history. . . . Here von Balthasar emphasizes the subjective side to this, that creaturely eyes and ears have in grace been made perceptive of God's glory and address within creation . . . . Even the nonbeliever is not excluded from this address within creation: insofar as every person 'looks out upon a cosmos that is noetically and ontically [by knowledge and by being] saturated with moments of the supernatural, he will also be, at the very least--without knowing it--a crptyo-theologian.

Steck, 106 (quoting von Balthasars's Theology of Karl Barth, 280).  Again, supernatural grace is always in the mix, even in the unbeliever.  This appears to be consistent with von Balthasar's rejection of the notion of pure nature.  Even hypothetically, he seems to reject a notion of pure reason, of pure nature.  Grace is always found, even if it is only in the interstices of an unbelieving soul.

The third significant component of creation in the ethical life in von Balthasar's thinking is the notion that the created order has a "sphere of meaning" that is not neither isolated from, nor abolished by, the order of grace.  Von Balthasar strives mightily to keep grace always in the picture, while yet struggling mightily to make sure that nature somehow survives intact.  But as a result there is always a confusion, a blending.  For this reason, at least from our vantage point we are unable "with any absolute confidence [to] categorize the ethical horizon in which the Christian acts in terms of what belongs to the order of creation and what to the order of grace."  Steck, 106.

So the natural law--as something separate and apart from the life of Grace--is not something found in von Balthasar's moral theology (which means he has no real moral philosophy).  We can, at best, have "some confidence and hope . . . that the particularist view of the Christian can often find common cause with the outlooks of those guided and shaped by other [religious or secular] narratives."  Steck, 106-07.  This "common cause" is found in the "sphere of meaning," whatever exactly that is.  But this "common cause," is "perhaps less than found in some natural law approaches," which von Balthasar seems to forgo.  Steck, 106-07.

Von Balthasar suggests that the the "sphere of meaning" found in the created order displays a vestige as it were of the supernatural life of grace.  There is a sort of redolence of the entire nature/supernature plan which existed before the Fall that is left in the "sphere of meaning" of the created order.  The supernatural order therefore remains intelligible, though perhaps darkly so, to the created order.  The "sphere of meaning" in created nature is an "interior meaning," and it is a vestige of the original plan of God as well as the "economy of salvation" which seeks to repair that original plan.  God's grace--His supernatural presence in the created order--"will be gentle, even if sinful hearts find it bitter."  Steck, 107. 

Steck concludes this section with a quite beautiful statement:
Not even the natural human yearning for wholeness--that is, humanity's "'pre-understanding' of what God's 'redemption' might be"--is simply overturned but rather refashioned and transcended in God's revelation.
Steck, 107 (quoting TD5.33)

Von Balthasar is Catholic enough not to dump the entire grace/nature distinction; the question perhaps is: does he retain enough of it to remain comfortably within the tradition?
*O'Donoghue continues: "[T]his attitude has been disastrous.  In the first place it made any real dialogue between the Christian and his millions of non-Christian fellows . . . impossible."  Noel Dermot O'Donoghue, "Do We Get Beyond Plato?" in Bede McGregor and Thomas Norris, eds., The Beauty of Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 258, n.2.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Looking Back from Christ

EEVER SINCE HENRI DE LUBAC's view of nature and the supernatural, of nature and grace, there has been a sort of collapse of consensus among Catholic theologians in this area.  In their rejection of a hypothetical state of pure nature (but one with its own end and its own integrity, separate and apart from grace, though--in reality--there was never a time, and never will be a time where pure nature was intended to exist without being tied intimately to the supernatural life of grace), there has been a sort of conflation between nature and grace.

The result is that often grace itself has become naturalized, immanentized so that all are Rahnerian "anonymous Christians," all participate in grace in one way or another, and the uniqueness and importance of the Christ-event seems to have been compromised.  The Christ-event is simply the apex of this nature/grace muddle.  There is only one "existential order," a muddled natural-cum-supernatural one. Alternatively, nature seems to have disappeared from importance, and all is grace and supernatural.  Here, ethics ignores universal laws, any constraints of nature, and all becomes a one-and-one existential encounter.  Each man's path is his own path: man does not have a path he shares with others, a path which may be found by looking at what creation tells him.  "The encounter with God is such that it transforms worldly ethics and refuses the hegemony of natural law."  Steck, 101.  In short, things have become muddled.

In fact, things have become more than muddled.  In some cases, the collapse of the nature/supernature distinction has resulted in tendencies that are dangerous to say the least.  Witness this quasi-anarchical statement from Rahner:

And the ultimate meaning of this revelation [in Jesus Christ] is a calling of man out of this world into the life of God, who leads his personal life . . . as the tri-personal God, in inaccessible light. God is thereby bring himself immediately face to face with man with a demand and a call which flings man out of the course pre-established by nature . . . . [T]here arises the most immediate possibility that [God] might issue commands to mankind which are not at the same time the voice of nature, are not the lex naturae. And if God calls man in this command of his revealing word to a supernatural, supramundane life, . . . [then the world] is condemned to a provisional status, a thing of second rank, subject to a criterion which is no longer intrinsic or proper to it.

Steck, 101.*  While there is nothing objectionable per se in Rahner's statements taken singly, there seems some dangerous tendency arising from some sort of underlying deprivity.  Something smells rotten, sort of like when you open a refrigerator door and smell spoiled food.  You cannot at once find where the foul order might be coming from.  While most of the food is good, there is one piece that is not quite right.

Rahner's formula raises the possibility--only implied, but others have acted on it--that the natural moral law (the lex naturae) no longer binds.  It seems we all have become potential Abrahams who, in obedience to God, may be called to a one-on-one discipleship which requires us to act against the natural moral law.  If we are "flung out of the course pre-established by nature," if God's voice is "not at the same time the voice of nature," if the natural moral law "is condemned to a provisional status, a thing of second rank, subject to a criterion which is no longer intrinsic or proper to it," why in the wrong hands this is a recipe for Christian anarchy.

Whether von Balthasar's ethics is infected by this muddle is uncertain.  Steck believes that von Balthasar avoids a too-strict separation between nature and supernature/grace, but also avoids the problems associated with the modern tendency among the theologians of la nouvelle théologie, of conflation of the two orders of reality.  He navigates between Scylla and Charybdis and offers us the prospect of a perfect recipe for the nature/supernature conundrum.   I am uncertain whether this is the case.

 Salvador Dali's Christ on the Cross According to St. John of the Cross

What von Balthasar seems to do is to seize on Karl Barth's insight that creation is the "external basis of the covenant," and the covenant between man and God in Christ's revelation is the "internal basis" of creation.  Steck, 103.  "Von Balthasar finds this description completely acceptable as a way of relating the two orders [of nature and grace], but believes that Barth himself does not always do full justice to creation."  Steck, 103.
Although there has always been only one human reality, i.e., the graced existence of the person called and destined to be one with Christ, it remains important [to von Balthasar] to preserve a conceptual distinction between the orders of creation and grace. This is necessary not so much in order to protect the gratuity of grace by postulating a "pure nature," sufficient and meaningful apart from grace, but to exclude any hint of what von Balthasar calls "theopanism," where creation is emptied of any ontological reality and instead all that is real in the covenantal encounter is attributed exclusively to the domain of grace. The distinction of the orders underscores that grace works in and through an order that has its own integral, albeit relative meaning, even while leading that order to its perfection.
Steck, 103.  Here's the problem for von Balthasar (which is common to the advocates of la nouvelle théologie).  "Since humanity has always existed within the call of the Word and the presence of the Spirit in the one economy of God, the 'nature' that grace presupposes," so the argument goes, "cannot be uncovered by bracketing the historical 'addition' of Christian revelation."  Steck, 104.

Von Balthasar therefore resists any kind of clear delimitation of nature and grace.  For him such distinction is as hopeless at it is sterile.  And yet he endeavors to preserve these categories in a manner.  He does this by "peer[ing] through the present economy, within the epistemological brackets of the Christ-event," and this allows us to make some "general observations about human existence apart from the full light of Christ."  Steck, 104.

Von Balthasar approaches the problem from the terminus ad quem looking backward, whereas the traditional Thomists might be said to look at the problem from the terminus ad quo looking forwards.  Is this a problem of whether we are to be Epimethius or Prometheus, a looking behind versus a looking ahead?  Is this a question of "what did Christ come to save?" versus a question of "what did Christ save?"

[I]nstead of starting from principles drawn from the revelation in creation to arrive at the revelation in the Word as the crown and summit," von Balthasar proceeds "in the reverse direction, from the revelation in the Word to that in creation," "by determining what the word of revelation itself presupposes and implies."

Steck, 104.**  "Christ is the 'one and only criterion,' 'by which we measure the relations between . . . grace and nature.'"

Using this technique of looking backwards from Christ, the "one and only criterion" by which the "relations between grace . . . and nature" might be gleaned, von Balthasar (in Steck's analysis) identifies three claims of the created order which are important in the ethical life: (1)  the created order gives rise to an agency (a human person) distinct from God; (2) God's call is perceived within creation in some manner; and (3) the creature's encounter with grace preserves, and does not destroy, the spheres of meaning in the created order, so the life of God in Christ is intelligible even when viewed from the created order.

We will discuss these three features in greater depth in our next posting.

*The quote is from Karl Rahner, "The Ignatian Mysticism of Joy in the World," in Theological Investigations, vol. 3 (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1967), 285-86. 
**The quotations are from von Balthasar's "The Implications of the Word," in The Word Made Flesh, Vol. 1 of Explorations in Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 48.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Nature v. Supernature

IT MIGHT BEHOOVE US TO REVIEW the issue of nature and grace and their relationship.Traditionally, Catholic moral thinking has distinguished between the order of nature and the order of grace (or supernature).  The former is accessible by nature; the latter accessible by God's revelation.

Catholic thought has struggled to maintain the dignity and the "good" of both orders, with ultimate preeminence given to the supernatural life or life of grace, though not at the exclusion of the natural order.  The traditional formula has been the grace improves, supplements, or improves nature.  These insights are expressed variously: gratia supponit naturam; gratia elevat naturam; gratia perficit naturam, etc.

Although speculatively one may think of the state of pure nature (natura pura) and a natural end, as a result of the divine solicitude, man really has no natural end since he is called to the supernatural dignity of being incorporated into Christ and living in communion with God.  However, some--in their well-intentioned zeal to emphasize the grace of Jesus Christ, sola gratia--deprecate nature to the point where one wonders what it was that existed that God intends to save. There has been a tendency among the advocates of la nouvelle théologie to emphasize the supernatural life and supernatural call of all men.  With this emphasis, some have expressed concern that the natural life of man (reason, universal law, etc.) has been given short shrift.

For example, purporting to hale back to St. Thomas's original conception, Henri Cardinal de Lubac in his famous book The Mystery of the Supernatural argued that Thomas de Vio (Cardianal Cajetan) (1469-1534) had erred in understanding the approach of St. Thomas Aquinas to nature and grace.  According to de Lubac, Cajetan--though he believed that nature was an order full and complete within itself--did not believe nature ordered to God as First Cause.  Man had no natural desire for God.  Only grace provided the knowledge of God and, what is more, only grace gave the desire for God.  Man as man, i.e., man in the state of pure nature alone, had no in-born desire for God.  Any desire for God was the result of divine prompting: actual grace.**

 Henri de Lubac, S.J.

This error of Cajetan--so de Lubac argued--found itself handed down in Catholic thought, including such luminaries such as Domingo Bañez and Francisco Suarez.  (The Jesuit scholar Karl Rahner called this division between nature and grace "the mortal sin of Jesuit theology."*)  The unfortunate result according to de Lubac and others was that Catholic moral thought was double-layered.  There was a natural life (with its own end) and a supernatural life (with its own end) that was spread upon the natural life like a blanket.  The result was what de Lubac called the "bitterest fruit" of this error, namely the marginalization of the life of grace and of the Christian faith.  In de Lubac's mind in contributed to a secular view of man.

What sort of happened is the the life of nature gave all the norms for human living, and the supernatural life of grace was sort of the fuel, impetus, or motive. Extrinsically, there was nothing to distinguish Catholic morality (based upon natural moral law) from non-Catholic morality (based upon the natural law).  The Christian discipleship, the call of God in Christ, the supernatural life of grace became, as it were, a footnote, an afterthought.  "Grace changes nothing in regard to the materiel nature of the [moral] act.  It only determines whether the act is also sanctified or not."  Steck, 98.

In opposition to this, de Lubac maintained that man was fundamentally and naturally oriented to God: there was a natural desire for union with God.  This natural desire was satisfied by Jesus Christ and the grace he offered.  Unfortunately, this emphasis ran the risk of either making all human life supernatural or making the life of grace natural. 

*Cited in Steck, 189 (citing Karl Rahner, "Nature and Grace," Theological Investigations, vol. IV (London: Darton, Longman & Todd 1966), 100).
**The Protestant Reformers in particular deprecated nature, many of them seeing nature as something that was completely and totally ruined by the Fall.  This notion of total depravity resulted in a real deprecation of the natural moral law, of reason, and of natural virtue.  Stressing the Augustinian grace strain, the natural virtues without grace were nothing less than "splendid vices."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

God's Glory Appears: The Problem of Christian Particularism

ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS with von Balthasar's Christian's ethics is its lack of foundation in created nature.  Its Christocentricity makes it largely unintelligible to non-Christians.  It suffers from what might be called "Christian particularism," and therefore is weak on moral universalism.  In von Balthasar's view, the moral life is a submission to the command of God as revealed to us most forcefully in the theodrama of the Christ-event wherein the glory of the Lord is revealed.  This person-to-Person covenant, while marvelously Christocentric, departs from the traditional notion of the natural moral law as something universal, and something that provides normative guidance for the Christian (as well as humanity at large).  For von Balthasar, it would appear that the "claims of the created order are insufficient for ethical guidance."  Steck, 93.  Only revelation or supernature counts, not reason or nature.  Von Balthasar's ethics are therefore focused on what we might call the "vertical" order, and therefore weak when it comes to explaining the "horizontal" order.  It might be criticized for being "too Christian-particular," i.e., too Protestant, "to be authentically Catholic."  Steck, 94.

Nevertheless, in his book The Ethical Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Christopher Steck argues that "von Balthasar's thought preserves a relative autonomy of the horizontal order and with it a noetic component (i.e., understanding, reason) of the moral life."  Steck, 94.  In short, the natural law--based upon nature and discovered by reason--is not foreign to von Balthasar's ethical thinking.  Steck believes that von Balthasar's "thought permits a greater role for practical reason than might be expected, though less than Catholic ethicists of a universalist stripe would want."  Steck, 94.  But in reality, it appears that Steck is arguing that what is needed is "sound Christian ethics needs an adequate theological anthropology, and that such an anthropology will require some element of Christian particularism."  Steck, 96.

 St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata by El Greco

It is a fundamental feature of Catholic moral thought that the moral life is something that is objective.  The norms of our moral life are found in nature, and by the use of right reason man is able to discover the natural moral law, which is man's participation in the eternal law of God.  Though our reason has been weakened by the Fall, it is not so darkened as to be unable to detect God's original plan as manifested in the things that are seen.  (cf. Rom. 1:20).  There is a law of God in the human heart that is accessible to all men, i.e., the Gentiles, and therefore they are culpable for its violation. (cf. Rom. 2:15)  This natural law is the lingua franca of the moral life among men.  Though revelations might buttress it, and though divine positive law may supplement it or add additional requirements, the foundations of morality are based on nature.  Supernatural grace then builds on such nature, to repair it, to perfect it, to restore it.

This universalism is threatened by divine command ethics, since the latter tend toward particularism.  If ethics are built upon a command of God in revelation--whether that revelation is taken to be found in Christ or the Scriptures, or even the Church's teaching authority--then the role of nature, and God's intent for the created order, seems to be ignored.  The centrality of Christ in von Balthasar's ethical thinking "endangers what the Catholic tradition has viewed as the relative autonomy of the created order."  Steck, 95.  The centrality of Christ in von Balthasar's ethics makes his ethics particular and detracts from universalism because "at least some of the ethical claims which confront the Christian will not be shared by all persons but will, rather, be particular to the Christian."  Steck, 95.  Can this Christian particularism and Catholic universalism be reconciled?

Steck is convinced that the universalist strain and the particularist strain can be reconciled, and that von Balthasar's thought can be fitted into traditional Catholic ethical thinking.

Von Balthasar's ethical particularism develops out of his conviction that in Jesus Christ God addresses humanity personally and concretely.  At the same time, von Balthasar maintains that God's address does not violate the order of creation, and thus he strikes a balance between particularism and the Catholic traditions' deep commitment to ethical universalism.
Steck, 95.

"For von Balthasar, we cannot . . . continue with 'natural ethics' as if Jesus Christ were not the 'norm of everything.'"  Steck, 96.  Von Balthasar is therefore committed "faith ethics," and disdainful of what might be called "reason ethics" or "natural ethics."  Moral theology therefore completely eclipses moral philosophy.*

In some respects, what's involved here is the age-old controversy between nature and grace.  The proponents of la nouvelle théologie--de Lubac, von Balthasar, Yves Congar, etc.--seem to have stressed supernature and spurned the notion of "pure nature" as having any normative validity since the suggestion of nature without grace is hypothetical at best since God intends nature always to be graced and never ungraced.**

*But  one might observe that  if Christ is seen as the perfect fulfillment of the natural moral law, then how can there be a tension between "natural ethics" and "faith ethics"?
**See the discussion in this blog of Steven A. Long's Natura Pura where this aspect of these theologians' thought is criticized.