Mary quite contrary?

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I just finished a wonderful book, Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ, by Aaron Riches. It’s as informed and clear an exposition of Conciliar Christology as you’ll find. I read it on the heels of having finished Timothy Pawl’s equally excellent (but very different in its approach) In Defense of Conciliar Christology. I was with Riches all the way through his project until he expounded a Mariology of co-redemption that caught me by surprise and about which I have grave reservations. I’ll leave the reservations for now and just relay the relevant portions from Riches. Too much of the standard Protestant/Evangelical response to such claims about Mary are knee-jerk reactions that don’t engage the best, most serious attempts to express Mary’s unique status and role. It’s no surprise that Evangelicals are uncomfortable appreciating Mary. They do well talking about Abraham as the “Father” of the faith. They’re not so keen on owning Mary as the “Mother” of the faith.

There are foundational agreements I have with Riches’ treatment of Mary – that the Son has “two nativities,” that Christ’s concrete, human nature is ex Maria (of/from Mary), that her God-given role extends beyond that of being merely a receptacle to incubate and deliver Jesus). Evangelicals could do with some prolonged reflection upon the humanity of Christ ex Maria. And Riches got me reflecting upon the matter, which I appreciate. My reservations have to do with conclusions Riches draws (for example, that Mary not only is the source of Jesus’ human nature, but that she is “constitutive within the experience of mystical encounter with Jesus”) which are neither explicitly conciliar nor follow obviously from conciliar claims. Let me just share the relevant portions of Riches book at this point (from chs 10, “Son of Mary,” and 11 “The Weight of the Cross”) and leave you to reflect on them.

…[Th]e Logos did not assume a human person or the ontological infrastructure of a fully individuated human being, but rather assumed human nature so as to himself constitute the existence of this human being.

Whence this human nature? Whence its concrete inheritance? Here Riches maintains (rightly) that the Logos…

…truly receives his particular human nature ex Maria; indeed he allows his human particularity to be constituted in its specificity by her flesh, by her humanity, by her concrete genealogy and by the history of her people. The Son, in his incarnate nature, is truly a persona composita [a compound personal existence]; he is irreducibly both ex Patre and ex Maria. This is not to say that the Incarnate Son possesses an individuated mode of being discrete from his divine individuality…rather, it is to say that the particularity of Jesus’ human nature is concretely inherited in a way that it cannot be understood solely in reference to his eternal filiation…Just as the divinity of Christ is only knowable in terms of his concrete filiation from the Father…so analogously the Incarnation [Tom: or better, “humanity”] is only specified by the filiation of Jesus from Mary.

Riches describes the derivation of humanity from Mary as occurring within…

…a field of concrete relationality [that is] enabled by the fluid exchange of the Jesus-Mary relation; it begins at the Annunciation, continues through the Incarnation and is re-incarnated in every mystical encounter with Christ, which can only take place within concrete history as an unrepeatable event of the recognition of a genuine ‘other’, a historical figure with a genealogy who cannot be reduced to an abstraction. Thus the “unceasing, fluid exchange with the Theotokos”…is rooted, not only in the fact that Jesus in the Incarnation proceeds ex Maria, but also in the fact that she is constitutive within the experience of mystical encounter with Jesus. The particularity of the human Jesus cannot be thought of or accounted for outside the Jesus-Mary relation because the esse personale [personal nature] of the divine Son is human only to the extent that he receives himself ex Maria.

…the ex Maria procession cannot simply be subsumed within the ex Patre fact of who the Incarnate Son is. The Incarnate Son is persona composite, as Constantinople II designated. This means that the “enhypostatization” of the Son’s Incarnate nature cannot be upheld without a Mariological consequence. There can be no indifference in Christology to the carnal womb and personal being that gives the Logos his humanity.

If the ex Maria filiation of the Incarnate Son so constitutes his secundarium esse [his second, human nature] that she should be understood as playing a metaphysically permanent role in his incarnate persona composita, then Mary, in a sense, supplies not only the fleshly substance that makes Jesus “human,” but also the human infrastructure (education, culture, family, etc.) that forms and essential component of the personality of his human being. Recognizing this helps us to see how Mary, as a figure of the mystical body and its personal guarantor, supplies in herself at the origin a human suppositum and persona that uniquely corresponds with the homo verus of her divine Son. And so Mary is in herself the mystica persona of humanity united to Christ.

Mary thus constitutes…an order of grace that is singular: Jesus is God “by nature,” the saints are gods “by adoptive participation,” while Mary alone is a god “by affinity…[since] the venerable bonds which render her Christ’s Mother touch the very threshold of the divinity.” May is neither deiform by nature nor merely by adoptive participation; she is the Theotokos who encompasses God in her womb…and therefore she is the prototype of adoptive filiation. This means that, on account of her unique relation to the Son at his incarnate source, she is the first and exemplary member of his mystical body and therefore the personal representative of mystical union. In her…mode of being the first and perfect receptacle of the divine grace of her Son, the Church is fully present as co-belonging to the Incarnation. Adoptive participation in Christ is in this way made possible by the adopted daughter of God, since the grace of adoptive filiation dwells in its original plentitude in Mary in order that she may conceive the Son in whom we are predestined to be adopted filii in Filio [‘sons’ in the ‘Son’].

In the following chapter, Riches takes this Mariological metaphysics of Incarnation to the Cross and draws further conclusions:

If the incarnate filiation of ex Maria entails that the Theotokos “plays a permanent role in Christ’s metaphysical constitution qua ‘compound hypostasis’,” it is also the case that as the first and exemplar embodiment of receptivity to the grace of adoptive filiation, she plays a permanent role of co-belonging to the Cross, and so to the concrete content of the Son’s glorification. If Mary is truly the vera persona humana [the truly personal human] correspondent to the verus homo [true humanity] of her divine Son, then we would indeed expect a direct association to exist between her personal being as Theotokos and the personal act of synergistic love she presents at Golgotha. To the same extent that the Incarnation is determined by the Son’s pro nobis [the ‘for us’ orientation of the Incarnation], a “weight” that binds him from the moment of his incarnation in the womb of Mary to the Cross that is the goal of his mission, the union of Mary and Jesus must be realized within this “weight,” and must be perfected in the Pietà of the Virgin of Anguish, bearing in her arms the Crucified Lord. The Virgin is truly the exemplar of adoptive filiation, the first in the order of grace of the Spirit’s adoption of human beings into the communion of adoptive filiation, because her being too is centered on the sacrifice of Calvary.

Because Jesus must divest himself of the forma divina, the Mother must divest herself of the divine maternity in order to remain united with her Son. When the Son empties himself unto death, Mary becomes deprived of her child and of the God to whom she gave flesh. Giving her Son and her God to the Cross, Mary becomes dispossessed of the unique privilege of being “Theotokos.”

For the Mary-Jesus unio to be perfected, the distancing must be every greater…Mary must be stripped of her Son not only by physical death but also by a state of divine abandonment in which she can no longer claim to be the “Mother of God.”

The abandonment of Jesus by the Father on the Cross is…a true dilation of the Trinity insofar as the Crucifixion is understood primarily as an abandonment of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, the vinculum amoris of Father and Son.

Mary’s personal co-being with Jesus exerts, through the Spirit, a via curcis that ensures that the Sacrifice of Calvary will be established in terms of an unceasing, fluid exchange of theandric maior dissimilitudo between the original martyrdom of the Church and the unique Sacrifice of the Son. To this extent, there can be no argument about co-redemption. As a descriptive term of what actually happened on Calvary, it is a fact. The verus homo is the Redeemer, and the Virgin of Nazareth is with him in his unique act of Redemption. The Mother is in communio with her Son at the foot of the Cross: she suffers and sorrows with him; she is united with him in mutual abandonment. All of this entails from her exemplary status, her perfect co-being with the Son in the Spirit and her perfect docility to that same Spirit by which her perfect act of sequela Christi proceeds.

…[Mary] is irreducibly with the Crucified in his solitary act of redemption. But just as his persona does not “add” to his verus homo, so Mary’s co-redemptive role is not a contribution of something otherwise lacking in the Son’s redemptive sacrifice.

Mary’s suffering, then, is both a true participation in the Cross and a contribution of nothing but “adequate response” of the ecclesia immaculata, a response in the Holy Spirit that is itself a grace given in Christ. By the grace that flows backwards from the Cross, Mary gives her own consent, fiat mihi [“Let it be to me”], to that on which God himself waits: the immolation of the sacred victim.

Beata Virgo

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Virgin birth. Orthodox belief. Still held to by conservative Protestants, but abandoned as mythology by many. Even among those who hold to it as a matter of tradition, it’s an artifact of that tradition that may not animate and sustain a living faith. I’ve been recently mulling over this with some friends and thought I would express here my own sense of the importance and necessity of the Virgin Birth.

Two preliminary comments. I don’t view the virgin birth as a means of avoiding original sin. I could be convinced otherwise I suppose, but I don’t think there’s any original sin to avoid. So I don’t go there to explain the need or necessity of the virgin birth. Secondly, Dwayne and I have elsewhere argued the importance of virgin birth to Jesus’ self-understanding and sense of mission. That’s very important, but I’m not addressing that here. But do not underestimate the formative power of Jesus knowing that in an absolutely unprecedented and mysterious manner, his birth and existence are not the result of natural procreative acts. Very literally, his human existence is explainable only as willed by God uniquely and specially. The power of such a belief to shape Jesus’ self-understanding (and his parents’ understanding of who Jesus is) is incalculable, but I’ll not explore it here. Instead I want to try to explain why we think the virgin birth is metaphysically necessary to divine Incarnation. I don’t mean explaining metaphysically ‘how’ the Incarnation occurred. Fat chance. All I want to show is that a natural birth through normal human procreation is in fact incompatible with divine Incarnation.

Why do I suppose the necessity of virgin birth to divine Incarnation? I do so because it’s the only way I see to make sense of a one-subject/two-natures (Chalcedonian) understanding of the God-Man. If we suppose natural procreation (Joseph impregnates Mary), we then have to concede the existence of Jesus’ human nature independent of divine activity or intention, and this is precisely what we want to deny, namely, that the ‘human nature’ of Jesus has any existence independent of the Logos. Conciliar Christology maintains that the human nature of Jesus has existence only insofar as it subsists in the person of the Logos. Jesus’ human nature was thus “enhypostatic,” that is, made concrete only in the Logos. But if we suppose natural procreation, we cannot say Jesus’ human nature exists only by virtue of this unique divine action. On the contrary, if Mary conceives after the natural order of things, Jesus’ birth and life follow as a matter of natural law and the Incarnation is a ‘conjunction’ of two naturally independent realities. But we say the concrete human nature, the human life of Jesus from beginning to end (conception, gestation, birth, life) exists only as it subsists in the Son. It has no explanation for its existence outside God’s personal, intentional willing.  It’s ontologically constituted, made possible at all, in and through the Logos. But if Mary conceives naturally, we have a full and created account of Jesus’ human nature and existence as not uniquely enhypostatized in the Son.

The virgin birth – not mythology.

Incarnation or nothing at all

godman“What could possibly be the point of a created universe entirely plunged in the darkness of unconsciousness, unable to know or appreciate that it is there at all?…The person is ultimately the key to why there is anything and not rather nothing.”
(W. Norris Clarke)

Clarke was a Catholic. Great mind. Loved engaging Hartshorne. Good banter back and forth. Here Clarke sees clearly that hypostatic-personal existence is the only consistently (Christian) theistic way to conceive of God’s purpose in any possible created order. The idea that God could have created any number of created orders, even some with no sentient beings at all, is complete, theological nonsense in light of Christology.

I wonder if ‘logic’ has been so divorced from theological conviction that theologians feel themselves forced to give an account of the faith in terms of innumerable ‘logically’ possible worlds, worlds the possibility of which have to be accounted for theologically so long as they generate no logical contradiction (strictly speaking) but which are unthinkable Christologically. This commits the Church to having to accommodate and understand herself in terms of possibilities which, Christologically speaking, are no possibilities at all, which can only undermine the Church’s vision of her identity and mission. My point is, the purpose of any creation, Christianly conceived, is “God all in all.” No creation could be intended for any other end, and that end is inconceivable apart from Incarnation.

Rowan Williams: Hulsean Lectures 2016

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Gotta love the plenitude of those eyebrows!

In Lecture 3 of his 2016 Hulsean Lectures (from 03:45-04:25), Rowan Williams disputes the Christological appropriateness of speaking of “two consciousnesses” (or two minds), claiming such terminology is foreign to Patristic thought. He especially rules out the possibility of understanding Maximus in this way.

I was surprised to hear this. Maximus advocated two ‘wills’, of course, on the basis of the union of two natures (divine and human) in the one person of the Logos. So the question is, in addition to the “two wills” of the Incarnate Logos, is there any indication that “two minds” is an equally appropriate claim to make? Does such talk appear in the Greek Fathers? Well, yes and no. I asked Fr John McGuckin if he knew of any “two minds” talk up to, say, Maximus. He admitted he didn’t, though it didn’t explicitly contradict Orthodox Christology. They just didn’t carry on the conversation about two natures in terms of “minds,” though they did in terms of “wills” and “energies.”

I kept poking around and ran into a reference to Maximus’ work in the Syriac version of Maximus’ Life (Syriac Life, trans. by Sebastian Brock). The author of the Life, not a fan of Maximus, writes:

And he [Maximus] wrote four books, acknowledging in them two wills, and two activities, and two minds. (emphasis mine)

However one might want to dispute this interpretation of Maximus seems irrelevant. The point is we have here an ancient example of “two minds” talk re: Christ. However one chooses to situate the mind/consciousness of Jesus (in its human limitations, ignorance, developmental states, etc.) relative to the divine mind/consciousness, the same logic that requires two “wills” would require two “minds.” One does not reduce the Logos without remainder to the constraints of Jesus’ embodied conscious states. That’s just Kenoticism. As one listens to Williams’ lectures, it doesn’t seem he does this. My only interest here was to question the idea that “two minds” talk is foreign to the Fathers.

Prayer

Fully God and fully man,
Two natures in the Logos can
Bring human mind and will within
And in the union heal from sin
All who freely choose to see
In Christ their true identity.

Incarnation anyway

artwork1-300In light of our preceding post I decided to revisit Athanasius. I started by browsing Frances Young’s From Nicaea to Chalcedon and this caught my eye from her summary of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation (OTI). She writes:

“God had given humanity a share in the Logos, and had also given human beings free will. So God tried to safeguard this gift by making it conditional upon obedience to a particular law. If that law were broken, humankind would be turned out of paradise and left to inevitable submergence under the forces of death and corruption; returning to the nothingness from which it came. Humanity disobeyed, and forfeited the principle of life, the Logos. For Athanasius, this left God in an intolerable position. It was unthinkable that God should go back on his word; humanity having transgressed must die; God could not falsify the divine self. But it was not worthy of God’s goodness that the divine work should perish, especially in the case of beings which had been endowed with the nature of the Logos himself; it would have been better never to have created them. This has been described as the ‘divine dilemma’; somehow God’s integrity had to be salvaged while the demands of divine love were met. The answer was the incarnation.”

We might say Athanasius was infralapsarian in his Christology. The relevant passages in OTI are clear enough:

“…because death and corruption were gaining ever firmer hold on them, the human race was in process of destruction. Man, who was created in God’s image and in his possession of reason reflected the very Word himself, was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone. The law of death, which followed from the transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape. The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon his word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creatures whom he had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being good, to do?…It was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon his word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify himself; what, then, was God to do?

Indeed, what was God to do? The divine dilemma as it’s been named. It’s precisely this dilemma which I want to question, for it assumes the incarnation is God’s answer or response to human sinfulness. Athanasius elsewhere contemplates the possibility of humankind’s not falling and thus (presumably) not needing the incarnation. It is human sinfulness, Athanasius argues, which occasions the need and motivation for divine incarnation. Athanasius explains:

“You may be wondering why we are discussing the origin of men when we set out to talk about the Word’s becoming man. The former subject is relevant to the latter for this reason: it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out his love for us, so that he made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of his taking human form…”

This order seems to us incorrect in terms of later patristic thought (ala Maximus, but more on that later). We previously suggested that incarnation is not in fact caused by humanity’s failure and sinfulness, but rather, quite the opposite; God creates for the sake of incarnation, the latter occasioning the former. Had everything gone fine (if we may speculate counter-factually for a moment) and humanity progressed without sinful departure, incarnation would have remained God’s intent and humanity’s perfection would have required it nonetheless.

It is not our fallen sinfulness that makes us need God or require the grace of incarnation. It is our finitude per se which stands in such need. We are incomplete ‘as such’, not made so by any fall.

We suggest an ‘incarnation-anyway’ point of departure, a supralapsarian Christology in which the rationale for incarnation is taken out of the sphere of human salvation from sin. God does not incarnate in response to human sinfulness even if incarnation is in fact the means of our salvation. Thus incarnation is not reducible to our sinful state as its occasion. On the contrary, creation as such is reducible to incarnation as its occasion. As such, sin opposes but does not occasion or call incarnation to be. Rather, incarnation (the intent) calls for creation of a certain kind. Our departure into sin is but a detour teleologically speaking. It makes no positive contribution to the fulfillment of God’s intentions per se, however seamlessly divine grace incorporates our fallen state into the final form of our perfected existence in him. Sin is in the end little more than a speed bump.

The art of divine napping—Part 1

1033There he is — God incarnate. That zygote right there. And the Logos became flesh. We’ve discussed the whole zygote thing before. While debates about divine incarnation in the womb might appear fantastic or as uselessly speculative as arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, whether or not God really took the human journey in its entirety certainly bears on the integrity of the incarnation and with it the salvation Christians suppose is therein provided.

One possible line of inquiry which might shed light on recent discussions regarding kenoticism was suggested to me by Dwayne. It asks us to consider what it means for the Son to “have life in himself just as the Father has life in himself” (Jn 5.26; cf. Jn 1.4; 1Jn 1.1-2) and explore what the consequences of this would be for the kenotic claim that this same Son relinquished all attributes not compatible with the natural constraints of a created, embodied human nature. A couple of obvious questions might include:

(a) What would “possessing life in one’s self as the Father possesses life in himself” entail?

(b) Is the answer to (a) instantiable exclusively in terms of the constraints of embodied human nature?

Additionally, an important methodological question might be:

(c) What ought to be the proper order in answering (a) and (b)?

This last question (c) is unavoidably important. We recently finished up discussing Bruce McCormack’s Ch. 10 on Barth & open theism, and we noted McCormack’s complaint that open theists fail to make Christology the proper starting point for their doctrine of God. We are to start, he argues, with Christ and, not stepping outside the event of God’s own self-revelation in Christ, determine our understanding of God from there. Greg Boyd, not a Barthain by any means, is nevertheless equally passionate in advocating for a Christ-centered understanding of divine being. Jesus is God incarnate, and that should provide us a straightforward strategy for knowing just what being God really/essentially amounts to. Whatever supposedly essential divine attributes fail to be instantiated by Christ within the constraints of his embodied human experience can summarily be dismissed as not necessary or definitive of what it means to be God. Greg argues the point:

“If we allow the incarnate and crucified Christ to define God for us while embracing the Kenotic understanding of how the Son became a human, it becomes clear that the only attribute that defines God’s divinity is his love. That is, if Jesus was ‘fully God’ without exercising his omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, then clearly God need not exercise omnipotence, omniscience and/or omnipresence to be God. One might of course argue that God must at least have the potential to exercise these attributes to be God. But it nevertheless remains true that….”

Thus kenoticism follows from a Christ-centered methodology for determining truth about God. If God’s essential attributes are to be understood as instantiated exclusively in terms of the boundaries of Jesus’ human experience, then what you see in Christ is all God is essentially and necessarily, “all that it takes” to be God. And, so the logic goes, since Jesus isn’t omnipresent and omniscient (among other things), these attributes aren’t essential to being divine. What is the only essential, God-defining attribute that can be gleaned from Christ’s life? What nevertheless remains true? Greg explains:

“…it nevertheless remains true that Jesus’ self-emptying entails that the only thing God cannot stop exercising and yet be considered God is his essence-defining love.”

Unfailing love. That and that alone is God’s self-defining essence and necessary actuality. Jesus loves without fail, therefore Jesus is God (never mind for the moment that we also shall one day love without fail without being God). And certainly no Christian wants to say God isn’t personally present in Christ or that God isn’t personally and authoritatively revealed in Christ, or that God doesn’t love without fail, so non-kenoticists like Dwayne and me are in the apparently disadvantaged position of having either to:

Answer (a) (i.e., what “possessing life in one’s self as the Father possesses life in himself”) prior to answering (b) (and thus be guilty of constructing our doctrine of God independently of Christology)

    or

Somehow argue on biblical/Christological grounds that there’s more to the Son’s being divine than there is to the embodied experience of Jesus.

Sleepy God

We take the latter route, in view of which let us offer three suggestions for this Part 1 which have to do with the scope of the Christology at play in (b) and also with the nature of the apostolic testimony regarding God.

First, we’d like to suggest that the ‘Christ’ who ought to occupy the place of pre-eminence in shaping our understanding of God is not simply any single event in Christ’s life described in the gospels (as is the case, for example, with Greg Boyd who via a ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ argues that it is not the entirety of Christ’s incarnate career which finally and authoritatively determines our understanding of God but only the cross), nor Christ’s life as reconstructed on the basis of the gospel accounts only, but rather the entirety of Christ’s life as interpreted and applied apostolically. It is theologically illegitimate to pretend to have access to Christ independent of the whole range of apostolic authority and voice. The voice of the entire New Testament is equally authoritative for Christians in understanding Christ — who he was, what he accomplished, what his life means, in what sense he is God and in what sense he is human.

Second, it seems equally misguided to suppose that a description of Jesus’s life and career by Luke or Matthew is more definitive of our understanding of God than a description of God by, say, Paul which is not explicitly a reflection upon any aspect of Christ’s life. For example, Paul affirms (1Tm 6:16) that God is “immortal and lives in unapproachable light.” Where did Paul get this idea? Certainly not from any observation of the events of Jesus’ actual life. It doesn’t obviously follow from Jesus’ life, or his pre-eminent role in defining our understanding of God, that God should be thought of as immortal. It would seem Paul’s belief in God’s immortality was not derived Christologically but from the wider witness of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is not to say Christ’s life does not in fact render much of Israel’s understanding of God false. But it certainly means our doctrine of God is not simply the end product of looking at Jesus, writing down what we see and calling it ‘all that it takes to be God’.

If we have grounds on statements made by the apostles outside the gospel texts (Eph 2.20) for thinking God to be of a certain nature, then it would seem to follow that the Son, being divine, exemplifies this same nature though incarnate. Point is, statements made in the NT about God which are not obviously Christologically derived nevertheless have implications for what it means for us to say that the “fullness of deity” indwells Christ bodily (Col 2.9).

Third, unless one wishes to advocate an adoptionist Christology in which the Son descends upon or personally assumes an already existing human individual at some point (childhood, adulthood), we must understand incarnation to begin with Jesus’ conception. This means that whatever one wishes to believe God is on the basis of Christology, the scope of that Christology should embrace Jesus not just as a mature adult in responsible relationship with his Father or suffering in love on the cross, but also as a newly conceived zygote. The womb, not the Cross, is the least common denominator which kenoticists are obliged to reduce divinity to.

Problem is zygotes are neither personally consciousness nor self-aware, neither volitional nor relational nor subjects of a benevolent disposition or character — nothing that might fulfill that unfailing choice to love which Boyd supposes is the only necessary self-defining feature of God’s actuality. At this point we don’t wish to argue there are other self-defining features of God’s necessary actuality (although we believe there must be). We simply want to insist that whatever one supposes constitutes God’s self-defining necessary actuality, one must equally hold that the person of the Son instantiates this through the entirety of his incarnate career beginning with being a zygote. If the self-defining essence of divine being is unfailing love, then the Son must instantiate this unfailing love and do so exclusively in terms of a zygote’s created, embodied natural capacities (not just as a mature and responsible adult rationally exercising his freedom). It’s one thing to limit your Christology to the adult Jesus choosing the cross in the garden, or to his mature identity as the Father’s Son asking the Father to forgive them for they know not what they do and so conclude that “full divinity” is just the unfailing disposition to love at cost to one’s self. It is an entirely different thing to account for a zygote’s being divine exclusively in such terms.

Teaser sleepingWhere is the Son qua zygote doing what any of us thinks is necessarily involved in “being God”? Some kenotic answers we’ve met in conversation include, “Well, you’re still a person when you sleep, so the Logos is just sleeping in the womb,” or “You still love your wife when you’re asleep, right?” or “The Father and Spirit just agree to cover for the Logos during his absence.” I guess that must be what’s going on in that zygote there — the eternal Logos, the Father’s own Image, the author of life who possesses life in himself “just as the Father possesses life in himself” is taking a nap while the Father and Spirit cover for him.

In Part 2 we’d like to explore what it means for “the Father to possess life in himself” and then ask what it means to do Christology from this point of view on the assumption that the Son possesses life in himself “just as the father does.”

(Pictures here, here, and here.)

Human Self-Presencing an Image of the Trinity

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I’m coming up on finishing Kaled Anatolios’ Retrieving Nicaea. It’s a wonderful book with a helpful thesis around which he organizes the 4th and 5th century Christological debates. The chapters on Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine are great. I thought I’d share a portion of his chapter of Augustine. Enjoy!

This is where Augustine’s project of “looking inward” achieves its full existential and social resonances. As it turns out, the question for the trinitarian image in humanity coincides entirely with Augustine’s moral schema of the ordering of love. Charges that Augustine’s project is solipsistic can only be sustained if we omit the connections that he himself is at pains to draw between authentic self-knowledge and self-love, and being in right relation with the whole order of reality. The mind’s proper self-knowledge is bound up with its correctly placing itself within the hierarchy of being…If the mind’s self-awareness is to correctly imagine its own existence, so as to safeguard the perfect mutuality whereby it knows itself exactly to the extent that it is, then this self-knowledge must take the exact measure of the mind’s creaturely mode of existence.

It is the same with an authentic and true self-love. In both cases, the perfect mutuality and equality between the mind’s existence, its self-knowledge, and its self-love is not simply manifest in the human condition. This equality and mutuality, which [are] integral to the divine image in humanity, is a moral task susceptible to moral failure: “The mind therefore and its love and knowledge are three somethings, and these three are one thing and when they are complete they are equal (cum perfecta sunt aequalia sun). If the mind loves itself less than [as] it is—for example, if the mind of a person loves itself only as much as a person’s body should be loved, though it is itself something more than body—then its sins and its love is not complete. Again if it loves itself more than [as] it is, for example if it loves itself as much as God is to be loved, though it is itself incomparably less than God, here too it sins by excess and does not have a complete love of itself.” The motif of the ordering of loves explains the discrepancy between the mind’s ineluctable self-presencing and its habitual self-forgetting. The self-forgetting through which the mind appears to fail to know itself is not due to the real absence of self-knowledge that constitutes the self-presence that is identical with the very being of mind. Rather, this self-forgetting happens when the mind’s act of self-presencing is overlaid by an excessive and inordinate attachment to what is external to it. By improperly identifying itself with what it is not, the mind loses sight of its own act of self-presencing. This fate is unavoidable unless the mind attends to God according to its proper creaturely mode of being and thereby knows itself and loves itself in subordinate relation to its knowing of God and loving of God. The human person most properly knows herself and loves herself through knowing and loving God. When this happens, the human person also knows and loves other creatures in proper subordinate relation to knowing God. But the mind that does not attach itself to God will become attached to other lesser realities, precisely because the mind is so innately transitive. In that case, the mind will not authentically know God or itself or other creatures, nor will its self-knowledge and self-love be equal and identical to its real existence, or even transparent to itself. The trinitarian image imprinted in human consciousness will thereby become obfuscated, and the mind’s capacity for certainty will be radically compromised. That is the situation of the human person in exile from the enjoyment of knowing and loving God.

Augustine wasn’t the first to imagine the divine relations in such (psychological) terms or to see human self-relationality (human self-presencing by which we perceive our own image of ourselves in conversation with ourselves) as an analogy of the triune relations. Anatolios provides passages in Gregory of Nyssa which are similar and a few in Athanasius which at the very least anticipate such conceptions.

(Picture here.)