Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Person, Trinity, and Trampling Death by Death, part 1

Death was swallowed up in victory
At Thy resurrection from the dead, O Christ.
Hence, glorying in Thy passion,
And always celebrating it, we rejoice.
With jubilation let us cry out,
"The Lord is risen."

Thou, O Savior, didst come forth unbegotten
From the Virgin's womb, leaving her virginity unsullied;
Just so now Thou hast abolished Death in death.
Thou hast left in the tomb the fine linen of Joseph,
But Thou hast raised from the tomb the ancestor of Joseph;
For Adam came following Thee; Eve came after Thee,
All the earth is prostrate before Thee
As it sings the song of victory:
"The Lord is risen"

from the First Kontakion on the Resurrection
St. Romanos the Melodist, 6th century

~ ~ ~

How often do we hear someone question the fact that redemption comes to us by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ?  'Certainly', the conversation goes, 'God could have redeemed us in any number of ways!'

In this brief three part series, as it is presented here,  from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI] it becomes apparent that there is an integral, masterful, and absolutely transcendent Theo-Logic in the Passion, Death and Resurrection without which the dominion of death could not have been absolutely transfigured into everlasting life.  In this first section he introduces the theological concepts of love and other.

 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger from Introduction to Christianity

To the Christian, faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is an expression of certainty that the saying that seems to be only a beautiful dream is in fact true: "Love is strong as death" (Song 8:6). In the Old Testament this sentence comes in the middle of praises of the power of eros. But this by no means signifies that we can simply push it aside as a lyrical exaggeration. The boundless demands of eros", its apparent exaggerations and extravagance, do in reality give expression to a basic problem, indeed the" basic problem of human existence, insofar as they reflect the nature and intrinsic paradox of love: love demands infinity, indestructibility; indeed, it is, so to speak, a call for infinity. But it is also a fact that this cry of love's cannot be satisfied, that it demands infinity but cannot grant it; that it claims eternity but in fact is included in the world of death, in its loneliness and its power of destruction. Only from this angle can one understand what "resurrection" means. It is" the greater strength of love in face of death.

At the same time it is proof of what only immortality can create: being in the other who still stands when I have fallen apart. Man is a being who himself does not live forever but is necessarily delivered up to death. For him, since he has no continuance in himself, survival, from a purely human point of view, can only become possible through his continuing to exist in another. The statements of Scripture about the connection between sin and death are to he understood from this angle. For it now becomes clear that man's attempt "to be like God", his striving for autonomy, through which he wishes to stand on his own feet alone, means his death, for he just cannot stand on his own. If man--and this is the real nature of sin--nevertheless refuses to recognize his own limits and tries to be completely self-sufficient, then precisely by adopting this attitude he delivers himself up to death.

Of course man does understand that his life alone does not endure and that he must therefore strive to exist in others, so as to remain through them and in them in the land of the living. Two ways in particular have been tried. First, living on in one's own children: that is why in primitive peoples failure to marry and childlessness are regarded as the most terrible curse; they mean hopeless destruction, final death. Conversely, the largest possible number of children offers at the same time the greatest possible chance of survival, hope of immortality, and thus the most genuine blessing that man can expect. Another way discloses itself when man discovers that in his children he only continues to exist in a very unreal way; he wants more of himself to remain. So he takes refuge in the idea of fame, which should make him really immortal if be lives on through all ages in the memory of others. But this second attempt of man's to obtain immortality for himself by existing in others fails just as badly as the first: what remains is not the self but only its echo, a mere shadow. So self-made immortality is really only a Hades, a sheol": more nonbeing than being. The inadequacy of both ways lies partly in the fact that the other person who holds my being after my death cannot carry this being itself but only its echo; and even more in the fact that even time other person to whom I have, so to speak, entrusted my continuance will not last--he, too, will perish.

This leads us to the next step. We have seen so far that man has no permanence in himself. And consequently can only continue to exist in another but that his existence in another is only shadowy and once again not final, because this other must perish, too. If this is so, then only one could truly give lasting stability: he who is, who does not come into existence and pass away again but abides in the midst of transience: the God of the living, who does not hold just the shadow and echo of my being, whose ideas are not just copies of reality. I myself am his thought, which establishes me more securely, so to speak, than I am in myself; his thought is not the posthumous shadow but the original source and strength of my being. In him I can stand as more than a shadow; in him I am truly closer to myself than I should be if I just tried to stay by myself.

Before we return from here to the Resurrection, let us try to see the same thing once again from a somewhat different side. We can start again from the dictum about love and death and say: Only where someone values love more highly than life, that is, only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death. If it is to be more than death, it must first be more than mere life. But if it could be this, not just in intention but in reality, then that would mean at the same time that the power of love had risen superior to the power of the merely biological and taken it into its service. To use Teilhard de Chardin's terminology; where that took place, the decisive complexity or "complexification" would have occurred; bios, too, would be encompassed by and incorporated in the power of love. It would cross the boundary--death--and create unity where death divides. If the power of love for another were so strong somewhere that it could keep alive not just his memory, the shadow of his "I", but that person himself, then a new stage in life would have been reached. This would mean that the realm of biological evolutions and mutations had been left behind and the leap made to a quite different plane, on which love was no longer subject to bios but made use of it. Such a final stage of "mutation" and "evolution" would itself no longer be a biological stage; it would signify the end of the sovereignty of bios, which is at the same time the sovereignty of death; it would open up the realm that the Greek Bible calls zoe, that is, definitive life, which has left behind the rule of death. The last stage of evolution needed by the world to reach its goal would then no longer be achieved within the realm of biology but by the spirit, by freedom, by love. It would no longer be evolution but decision and gift in one.

But what has all this to do, it may be asked, with faith in the Resurrection of Jesus? Well, we previously considered the question of the possible immortality of man from two sides, which now turn out to be aspects of one and. the same state of affairs. We said that, as man has no permanence in himself, his survival could. only be brought about by his living on in another. And we said, from the point of view of this "other", that only the love that takes up the beloved in itself, into its own being, could make possible this existence in the other. These two complementary aspects are mirrored again, so it seems to me, in the two New Testament ways of describing the Resurrection of the Lord: "Jesus has risen" and "God (the Father) has awakened Jesus." The two formulas meet in the fact that Jesus' total love for men, which leads him to the Cross, is perfected in totally passing beyond to the Father and therein becomes stronger than death, because in this it is at the same time total "being held" by him.

From this a further step results. We can now say that love always establishes some kind of immortality; even in its prehuman stage, it points, in the form of preservation of the species, in this direction. Indeed, this founding of immortality is not something incidental to love, not one thing that it does among others, but what really gives it its specific character. This principle can be reversed; it then signifies that immortality always" proceeds from love, never out of the autarchy of that which is sufficient to itself. We may even be bold enough to assert that this principle, properly understood, also applies even to God as he is seen by the Christian faith. God, too, is absolute permanence, as opposed to everything transitory, for the reason that he is the relation of three Persons to one another, their incorporation in the "for one another" of love, act-substance of the love that is absolute and therefore completely "relative", living only "in relation to". As we said earlier, it is not autarchy, which knows no one but itself, that is divine; what is revolutionary about the Christian view of the world and of God, we found, as opposed to those of antiquity, is that it learns to understand the "absolute" as absolute "relatedness", as relatio subsistens.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails