Let's begin this session by trying to imagine how God must have felt about the affairs on planet Earth after the fall of our first parents. This isn't easy to do except by way of analogy, of course, for, among other things, God's omniscient knowing means that God already knew how things would ultimately turn out. Even so, we can surely affirm that God's presence to and involvement with the creation is such that God can be actually affected by the unfolding of events in space and time. And so it's likely that God was profoundly disappointed in our first parents' behavior -- even heartbroken! Like a parent who has done everything possible to make things really nice for a child -- only to have the child reject and squander the opportunity -- God was hurt, and even regretted the creation of humans (Gen 6: 5-6). Also like a loving parent, however, He didn't stop caring for them and providing for their future well-being, but there was only so much that could be done -- in the short run, that is. Human nature had been damaged, and -- what's worse! -- was now vulnerable to the influence of evil spirit.
God's quandary might be summed up as follows:
- How to save the human race
- Without negating human freedom
- In the context of vulnerability to evil
- And deepening traditions of social injustice
The biggest problem, here, was that human freedom needed to be taken into account and respected. God could have un-created humans -- wiped us from the face of the earth and started over. But that doesn't seem to be God's way. What God created was "good . . . indeed, very good," and, besides, the same thing might happen again next time around. The problem was how to steer humans back into right relationship with God, one another, the creation, etc., and to do so in the context of wounded human nature and growing traditions of evil (not to mention the deceptive influence of evil spirits). So God set about doing this right away, never ceasing to love the human race nor to call us to our true home.
Here we will mention in passing the history of the Jewish people, and God's attempt to steer the intellect and will through covenants of belonging mediated by the Law. This venture had its ups and downs, the main problem being the weakness of the human will and its apparent inability to remain faithful for long. In this day and age, we ought to acknowledge, too, the workings of God in other world religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, which both give evidence as well of a response by human beings to a call to holiness, compassion, and divine union. In many ways, these religious endeavors (especially in Judaism) were part of a larger plan for the human race -- a preparation for an intervention so unexpected and amazing that even the fallen angels could not believe it when it finally came about.
When the time was right, God became human.
Metaphysically, what is being asserted is that the Second Person of the Trinity, through Whom the Father/Creator made all things, created a human soul and became its inhabitant, taking bodily form in the womb of a young Jewish woman. She had, from her conception, been prepared for this important role through a special dispensation by God that protected her from the influence of Original Sin. Nonetheless, her "fiat" to God's request was needed, and she consented to be the mother of this extraordinary child. Thus it was that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. (Jn. 1: 14)
Let's think about what's actually being stated, here; I'll enumerate a few points for easier reference in discussion.
1. The Incarnation means that the Word is not simply "present-to" Jesus as the giver of his human life (as is the case for us), but is actually "present-as" the human person, Jesus of Nazareth. This is what we mean when we say that Christ was "begotten, not made." In him, the Word took to Himself a human nature that was to be the means by which the Word was to manifest itself to us in space and time. In a manner analogous to the spiritual soul becoming the principle of life all the other levels of human nature, the divine Word became the principle of life for the human soul of Jesus. He is not simply a "word-of-the-Word" like we are, but a "word-in-the-Word." We see evidence of this divine nature at work in him in his miracles (especially the nature ones), his resurrection, and his sending the Holy Spirit.
2. Nevertheless, the soul of Jesus is truly a human one. He is a "man like us in every way except sin." He hungers, thirsts, feels emotions, uses his reason to solve problems, makes decisions, makes mistakes (no doubt he spilled his milk or cut a piece of wood too short or something for his father) and is even tempted. The divine nature to which his human nature is joined does not ever eclipse his humanity. Again we can draw an analogy with the human and animal soul, which continues to function in the manner of other animals within our human nature, having all the same drives and faculties (memory, emotion, imagination) in place.
3. Jesus Christ is therefore true God and true Man. He possesses both a divine and human nature while we possess only the latter. We see the beginnings of this affirmation in the writings of Paul and the Gospel of John. Later, the Church was to formally defend the reality of his human nature against certain gnostic sects, which thought him to be mostly divine (masquerading as a human image), and the Arians who taught that he possessed divinity in a manner no different from the rest of us (that he "realized" it better).
At different times in Church history, the divinity of Christ was emphasized more than his humanity; at this time in history, it seems to be the other way around. Theologians refer to this as high versus low Christology, respectively. There are acceptable, orthodox variants of both and some of the New Testament writers seem to be more high than low and vice versa. In accordance with point #2, low Christology writers stress that Jesus' human consciousness had to grow as ours does, and it was only natural that he would come slowly to realize his deeper identity and true destiny. High Christology writers, on the other hand, have him fully cognizant of the divine prerogatives at work in him all along. Take your pick, and feel free to go one way or the other at different times in your life. In the end, however, Jesus' experience of his human and divine consciousness is a mystery -- a truth greater than we can fathom. We can, however, experience something similar to what he did through our own growth in the Spirit he came to share with us.
The New Adam
So Jesus is human and divine. What's that to us? How does that help us in any way? What difference does this make to our metaphysical situation -- our fallen human state?
First, let us recall that one of the things we noted about human nature in sessions 4 and 5 was its corporate dimension of existence. We are created individual souls, but the nature of the soul is such that it joins us with other human souls, constituting us as a kind of corporate reality, or a metaphysical species, if you prefer.
So what would it mean that the Word becomes human in the person of Jesus? Think about this question for a few moments to see if you track with what follows.
Well, for one thing, it would mean that Jesus is now part of the human race and is therefore intimately in touch with this corporate dimension of our species. Unless he is a different kind of soul -- which the Church has denied -- then that cannot help but be the case. Hence, Jesus is metaphysically connected to the rest of the human race through his human soul. And -- vice versa! -- the human race has a deep, metaphysical connection with him as well.
So far, so good?
OK, then, the next step is to note that, in keeping with points #1 and 3 above: where Jesus is, there also is the Word. You cannot have one without the Other. It follows, then, that through Jesus, the Word itself is now present to the human race in a metaphysically new way -- not simply as the giver of our existence, but, now, as a living reality to be encountered in and through Christ. Take a few moments and think about that. This is HUGE!
There's a sense in which the Incarnation alone would have been enough to save the race, for it introduces the presence of the Word directly into our species. The only other requirement would be that Jesus would have lived long enough (a risk from the first) to have become known so that people might enter into relationship with him and thus come to the new encounter with the Word mediated through his humanity. He could have lived a normal life, taught a group of followers to continue his work, and then passed on in some manner at a ripe old age, manifesting in resurrected form to his followers to verify his teaching. This would have saved the race by providing a new foundation for the soul -- the risen Body of Christ. But the Word, in His movement to reconcile humanity to God, did not stop there.
Jesus, as we know, did not live to be an old man, but was crucified by Pontius Pilate. Why, we might wonder, did he have to do that? There was no need to go this far! The new potential brought to the human race by the New Adam had already provided a way out of our old nature through relationship with Jesus.
All very true, except for the fact that it was not available to those who had already died. Also, there were other metaphysical realities to deal with -- some I only alluded to in earlier sessions, like the realm of Sheol, where souls passed into after death. This "realm of shadows" had come to belong to dark entities in opposition to God's reign, and its inhabitants were stuck there, as would be all who died without coming to relationship with Christ. How to get there, however, to introduce the possibility of this relationship?
There was only one way for a human to go to Sheol, and that was to die as a fallen human being -- something the God-man could not do, for his state was such that he did not know sin. What he could do, however, was to become fallen by virtue of empathy with the sin and darkness lurking in the depths of the human race. This would not change his true nature as the incarnate Word, but it would, for a short time, inflict him with the same disorder that brought a separation of body and soul at death.
It was on the cross of crucifixion that "Jesus, through his suffering and death, took our sins upon himself and became sin" (2 Cor. 5: 21). There are few passages in Scripture more important and profound that this one, and yet it is mentioned only once by Paul, and almost in passing. He does not mean this in any kind of figurative way or metaphorical way, it seems, but quite literally. By opening himself up fully to the darkness and disorder present in the human race, Jesus, through empathy and absorption, became the actual curse of sin itself. He experienced the fullness of the venom and torment that had plagued human beings for centuries, and he died from the weight of it.
Jesus' suffering and death accomplishes two very important things. First, it puts him in solidarity with all humans who suffer unjustly and die. Had he not done this, we might still turn to him for salvation, but it would be difficult to regard him as one who knows and understands human struggle. The second is that it gave him the ticket to Sheol that he needed to preach the gospel to the millions who had died before him. This "descent into hell (Sheol)" is affirmed in 1 Peter 3: 18-20 and was professed in the Apostles' Creed, one of the earliest summaries of Christian belief.
The one who descends is not cursed in his true nature, however -- only by virtue of empathic love. He is, in this sense, a "wounded healer," a "sin eater," and his passage to Sheol enables the Word Itself, through the defilement in Jesus' soul, to bring the light of God into that realm of darkness. Disembodied souls lacking hope of ever exercising their spirits again have the good news preached to them, and are offered a new bodily foundation in which to root themselves -- the sacred body of Christ. Thus it was that the stronghold of death was broken and so that, from this time on, even death belongs to God and becomes a passage to another kind of life. This would not have been possible if Jesus had not taken upon himself the sins of the world -- a loving sacrifice beyond the farthest stretches of our imagination.
Salvation in Christ
The descent into Sheol was not the end, of course. Triumphing over death, Jesus returns to his beaten, broken body and re-animates it, only now with the full power of the Word manifesting through it. He appears to his followers a few times to reassure them that it really is he . . . that he truly is risen . . . and then he ascends to heaven. With his ascension, the sacred humanity of Christ becomes fully integrated into the Word so that, with the Word, he now sits at the right hand of God as Lord of Creation. He is now available to all people everywhere and offers the gift of relationship to all who will seek him. Furthermore, his risen/ascended body is now available to all as the metaphysical basis for this new life. Finally, he has sent the Holy Spirit of love shared in the Trinity to the human race that we might experience the power to live the life he taught us and come to know God as he himself knows God. This is far more than the icing on the cake. In many ways, it is the final fulfillment of the restoration he has made possible.
So how would we come to experience this restoration?
You already know the answer, of course, but can see from the above that it works through the exercise of our human faculties of choice and reason. God's quandary was how to restore the race while honoring what He had already created, and God resolved this by creating for us a new possibility of relationship with Him -- one that did not destroy our humanity, but which invited us to a new relationship. Note the word "invited," here. Even though Jesus introduced this possibility of relationship into human nature itself, it is nonetheless necessary that we consent to it. Such consent is what we mean by faith, and it's why the Christian Church has insisted on faith as the means by which we enter into this new life with God. Having thus consented, one is then open to receiving the countless blessings brought to the human race by Christ -- especially the gift of the Holy Spirit. The old human nature remains, as do the tendencies wrought by the Fall; but a new life awakens, grounded in the risen Body of Christ and empowered by His Spirit. A transformation begins to take place in all levels of our being so that we come to awaken to ourselves as more than words-of-the-Word. Like Jesus, we, too, becomes words-in-the-Word. Amazingly, our human individuality is preserved, and we continue to experience the corporate dimension of human life as well -- only now in a new way. We discover ourselves to be part of a new community and even a new creation -- one that is already present, but not yet fully established. Human nature has been brought into the life of the Trinity, and we live now, with Jesus, in the flow of Trinitarian love even as we continue our sojourn in this world.
Fallen and redeemed: that is the current metaphysical state of affairs. What will come next we can only conjecture. Drop the "fallen" part and . . . well . . . there you go, whatever that looks like. Scripture hints at it in a few places, and we have caught a glimpse of it in the risen Christ. Like Paul, however, perhaps the best we can do is to say that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of any, the marvels that God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor. 2: 9).
Refection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?
2. How have you understood the teaching that Jesus "died for our sins" in the past?
3. Fallen/redeemed human nature: is this your experience?
1) finite, to be sure, let me not count the ways;
2) sinful, to be sure;
3) hopeful, not without reason but firstly mediated by my experience of the
4) beautiful and the
5) good ... love.
So, yes, what you say.
p.s. But precisely what do you mean by "fallen" ?
A few thoughts in the vein of expanding the themes and not set forth over against:
Anyone interested in exploring this issue, a rich topic all its own, can Google the word molinism and discover the idea of God's possessing what they call Middle Knowledge vis a vis human freedom. There is no single molinistic take, but several.
Another attribute that could generate a whole series by itself!
Duns Scotus had a controversial belief that the Incarnation was going to happen anyway, Fall or not. And this squares nicely with the Teilhardian perspective and very much affirms a continuity of the intrinsic goodness of creation, pre-Fall, post-Fall. (Very Franciscan, too, in its affirmation of creaturely goodness. Makes me want to build a creche.)
And speaking of such continuity, another would be that affirmed by Maritain via connaturality and our ability to encounter God through beauty thru our senses and intuition, both pre- and post-Fall.
Notwithstanding the Scotist vs Thomist view, the main point remains, that the Incarnation had metaphysical implications and that, soteriologically, it was utterly efficacious.
Indispensable and non-negotiable. Freedom is what makes love possible. That would be why so much emphasis in spirituality is on enhancing human freedom, expanding the space between stimulus and response.
Be it done to me according to His word ...
I just have to say: This whole Incarnation event is positively scandalous, flabbergasting, shocking ... I cannot get over it ... cannot causally move past such an utterance ... anytime it is mentioned ... but after encountering this Jesus, I could see why Duns Scotus would say that He was coming no matter what ...
re. Duns Scotus, JB. I like the idea that the Incarnation was part of God's plan for the human race, Fall or not. One can envision a scenario similar to what happened before the coming of human soul -- a development characterized by increasing complexity and consciousness, preparing the race to receive its next major "upgrade," if you will. The only difference is that there would have been no redemptive aspect to it as was the case with Christ. With the Fall, this became an additional motif for the coming of the Word.
- nice reflection on fallen/redeemed experience.
It should make people wonder, however, why someone like me would've left truth off the list.
JB, in considering my experience of a fallen/redeemed world, the truth revealed by Christ does stand out to me as an importnt factor on the redeemed side. As you know, he referred to himself as the way, the truth and the life, and stated that the truth would set us free. So I take it that referencing one's life to Christ does orient one to the truth and I think that's been confirmed numerous times in my own life (and yours as well, I'd imagine).
That's right. That's why I said hopeful, not without reason ...
You may have come across the old thomistic vs augustinian debates over which faculties were the most wounded, in a manner of speaking, or, conversely, which remained most intact, after the Fall. They would be deliberating over the will, reason and such vis a vis concupiscence --- our intellect darkened, our will weakened, our sensual inclinations oriented toward things of the flesh, etc and almost ad infinitum.
The Catholic conundrum was maintaining some continuity with our intrinsic goodness, pre- and post-Fall, solved by Protestantism by the declaration that we were, rather, totally depraved, ergo, no debate re: the relative goodness, so to speak, of our different faculties.
I bring this up, now, as we move into the context of redemption, because it is intimately intertwined with the idea that, over against Protestantism, notwithstanding our fairly recent Lutheran accord, Catholics are concerned not only with justification but also sanctification. Thus, it is important to have a grasp of what human nature is, how it is wounded, what is good, what is depraved ... because our theological anthropology instructs us, then, regarding what is being redeemed by the Savior and how. I'm rambling. This informs our formative spirituality.
Anyway, I came away from those debates unimpressed with which faculty had any type of precedence pre- or post-Fall. Conceived holistically, the entire human knowldege manifold was wounded (began as finite, for that matter, anyway, and got progressively wounded). It all then boiled down to issues of disorderedness and inordinacy, our mis-placing creatures before God, Who should be first --- intellectually, affectively, morally, socially and religiously. (She's jealous. That's just a fact we have to accept.)
This would not involve, then, only disordered appetities and inordinate desires of the senses and emotions and will but also of the intellect and any other faculty one might describe. They ALL need conversion and transformation thru grace. None was any better off or worse off than the other, post-Fall.
Why then would we say that faith and the suprarational and nonrational and prerational were epistemologically prior to the rational, enjoyed a primacy of sorts even though not an autonomy? Well, I'd say not because of the Fall per se, it simply reflects how we were made to begin with, is just an anthropological given, and that particular augustinian-thomistic debate is thus idle. For one thing, it could just be ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, this matter re: which comes first in human development and human experience.
We were made for Love and that is something we do --- as they say, with hearts and soul and mind and body, with our entire being. And Love isn't any one of these rationalities or faculties, doesn't originate and is not located in one or the other or the other. Even once transformed, these faculties remain finite. Love, for its part, is perfect. The restoration, then, is of all of these faculties, through ongoing conversion, sanctification following justification, in a restored relationship to Love, through Love, with Love, in Love ... quite the Mystery .. but we can attest to its effects in converted individuals, healed individuals, whole individuals and converted, healed and whole relationship & communities. Phylogeny now recapitulating Jesus' ontogeny.
Just musing out loud about all of these false faculty dichotomies, at least as I see it.
Anyone notice the pattern? The justification theme.
The previous session we were busy justifying God to humanity.
This one is about justifying humanity to God.
Oops, I think I just posted to the wrong thing....anyway, here is what I asked:
Quote from Phil's lesson
"She had, from her conception, been prepared for this important role through a special dispensation by God that protected her from th"e influence of Original Sin."
Would you speak a little more of Mary, Phil? Anyone?
Thank God for all the glorious manifestations of the mystery of the Trinity, for the human Jesus, for the risen Christ, for the Holy Spirit, for the human race, for the earth, and for the manifestations of God in the universe....thank God for all of you...and thank you God for You and for letting us experience you in this miracle of creative love.
May we travel like a comet streaking across the sky to curl up in the warmth of Mary to be born again to a life lived with Christ in our hearts.
I can never wait until we arrive there again.
Christ is already drawing us into the awakening of the souls who feel so unwelcome in the kingdom to remember their new identity in Christ...and I would imagine, hoping we yield, and say yes, and give ourselves to our part in it over and over again.
Blessed are we. Truly blessed.
I can breathe again.
Busy day so just a quick note. Good to see a bit of activity already happening on this thread.
Carole, do a google search for "Immaculate Conception, Mary" and you'll see what I was getting at.
Naomi, I figured you'd like this conference better than the last. Lovely thoughts you're sharing.
JB, I'm wondering if the topic you raise above doesn't belong more to the previous session? What part of this one touched off those kinds of questions? I don't think I made any point about which faculties were most damaged, etc. But your point that all the levels of our being need conversion is a good one, I believe.
It does belong to previous session, moreso.
You hadn't addressed that point. It was a consideration that I was dealing with regarding epistemology, in general, and, in particular, some thoughts Maritain had about our experience of beauty, pre- and post-Fall.
But, to relate the musing to the session at hand, re: restoration, salvation and how we'd come to experience it, especially as it relates to your focus re: formative spirituality, my reflections were mostly evoked by the implications of whether or not we consider salvation to accomplish justification or justification and sanctification.
Why? Well, could Protestantism affirm, with you, that human nature has now been brought into the life of the Trinity? You and I both know Anglicans, Methodists and Lutherans, who pretty much share our outlook on formative spirituality and spiritual direction and contemplation. It makes me wonder how much of Protestantism might share the justification-sanctification paradigm nowadays, how much of a stumbling block to Christian unity that particular issue remains or not? Even if others do.
Maybe you want to move this discussion to a section that handles "digressions" so as not to derail your focus though. I'm just naturally very peripatetic
Anyway, I think that's where I was coming from.
oh, and which has implications for liturgy and sacrament ... but that, then, may be getting ahead
oh, and which has implications for liturgy and sacrament ... but that, then, may be getting ahead
Nothing else coming. Six sessions in this series, and this was #6 . . . so digress away. There's also that thread on "preliminary remarks" that could serve as an overflow for general discussion.
One of the issues that comes up in inter-religious dialogue pertains to the Christian assertion that there has been only ONE, definitive incarnation of God: that of Jesus Christ. Hindu/New Agers object that it's simply arrogance to hold this position -- that Krishna, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and many Hindu saints were also avatars, or incarnations of God.
I think you can see from my conference why Christianity teaches what it does about this. There really is no need to introduce the Word or God's nature into humanity again and again, as once was enough. The race has been saved, and doesn't need to be saved again and again.
Of course, the Eastern avatars aren't regarded as saviors in the sense that we view Jesus. They are understood to be living reminders of the reality of God's loving care for us. In that sense, my own view is to regard them as we do the Christian Saints, only from other traditions.
Anyone have any thoughts on this?
BTW, Naomi. What you alluded to in several threads as a polarity in human experience -- darkness and light, but the light eventually breaking through -- could be understood in terms of the idea of human nature as fallen/redeemed. This is, to me, preferable than regarding darkness and light as something intrinsic to creation . . . not that you were suggesting that, of course. So your poetic, mystical sharing about darkness giving way to light is a good way of noting how we experience the fallen part of our nature giving way to the epiphany of the Word.
Not really, you about covered it here:
C'est bon! Job well done, Phil. Thanks for this stimulating and enriching conference. It deserves a wider audience and additional engagement. Thanks to all who participated, whether actively or in lurker mode, for those who love the truth are in some meausre called upon to defend it (or something like that per Merton). Pray for me and I will for you.
I'll depart with this thought from Karl Rahner:
Nic Lash responds:
pax, amor et bonum
Phil, I converted to Catholicism about twenty years ago. I had been raised as a Methodist.
I started exploring spirituality working in hospice, and I felt moved toward the mystery and liturgy of the Church. I became one who attended daily mass. Caused chaos with my friends and family for a while. Just wanted you to know.
I am writing a book with an artist who is a mystic,with roots in Iran, although he has lived in the US most of his life. The book is on Rumi,who is a mystic poet from the thirteenth century in the Persian Empire, which is now Afghanistan. So, my language is affected by this work. Yet,I am very Christ-centered. I like the dialogue with others.
I like the way you refer to the avatars as being somewhat like the saints. Enlightenment is coming to mean raised consciousness and awareness in the US movements, quite apart from religious beliefs or New age thinking. The old master/disciple belief is not really a part of it in the way it used to be. It is less focused on Nirvana and nothingness as in the eastern tradition in my experience, and it is much more focused on service and social responsibility and being fully aware!
I am sure there are as many variations as there are people. I am a believer in our interconnectedness across the boundaries of all belief systems. I have long loved the inclusiveness of Jesus.
When my focus turns to the Incarnation, it never fails to overwhelm me. This presentation of our Paschal Mystery is the very best I have heard, explained in a way simple enough to pass on in faith discussion groups.A new insight for me is that Jesus could only go to Sheol "as a fallen human being....fallen by virtue of empathy with the sin and darkness....."
I love the whole lesson. One quote I found liberating: "Even though Jesus introduced this possibility of relationship into human nature itself, it is nonetheless necessary that we consent to it. Such consent is what we mean by faith..." One good habit I have is consenting to the Divine Presence frequently, especially before prayer, and trying always to acknowledge the Divine Presence in others, but I hadn't
associated that with faith. On second thought, if I consent to the dark circumstances in my life, along with the Divine Presence, knowing that the rising always comes after the dying, then that is faith.
This has been a wonderful series. When I signed up, I fully hoped to participate in the posts but have been too consumed with Hurricane Katrina family evacuees. I would read the daily digest each evening, which was a real gift to me, then would be too exhausted to respond. Thank all of you so very much for your great sharing. I will be reflecting on it for a long time.
I recognize the Divine Presence in each of you.
I too see great wisdom in other faiths, and many saints, and sincere devotion. Sometimes I think the "Word" infiltrated them by another name! As for me, Jesus is my savior.
Well, this was a very fine experience for me. I find myself very disappointed it has ended so quickly, and wishing I had something eloquent to say about the lessons and commentaries and their very positive effect upon me. My self has been stretched and awaken in new ways.. I have a clearer vision of my God and myself and others and a deeper sense of our connection to one another and of that connection to the earth and to all of creation.. The lessons were so well done and understandable and so full of the Holy Spirit that the the spirit within me lept.
I am so thankful for the faith my Christ has given me, and for the faith of the people he has placed in my path. Thank you all, and most especially, thank you Phil, and Godspeed! (not quite sure what that word means, but I like the sound, and you get the gist!)
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