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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Softening Subordinationism

FOR VON BALTHASAR, the Christian moral life is it its essence a participation in the relationship between the Father and the Son, the "eternal begottenness" which exists between Father and Son. The earthly work of Jesus the Son of God incarnate is a temporal expression of the eternal begottenness between the Father and the Son. Jesus does the will of the Father in accomplishing his mission among men.  The Word eternally does the will of the Father.  That will of the Father, which is unchanging, and which the the person of the eternal Word in both his eternal nature and incarnate human nature responds to perfectly, is therefore one and the same.  Jesus' divine will and human will are in perfect accord, so the expression of his human will is an expression of his divine one.*  Since as Christians we are called to do the Father's will, and understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son is essential.  This, in a nutshell, seems to be the heart of the moral enterprise in von Balthasar's eyes.

The matter of the relationship between the divine will of Jesus and his human will and their relationship to the eternal will of the Father is delicate.  In identifying the divine will and the human will of Christ, there is a risk of falling into a sort of subordinationism, that is, of making the Son in his divine nature subordinate or inferior to the Father. To subordinate the eternal will of the Son to the eternal will of the Father would be an improper subordination and denial of the essential equality of Father and Son.  However, it would not be improper to subordinate the created (human) will of Jesus to the eternal will of the Father, since, in his human nature though not in his divine nature, Jesus is subordinate to the Father.**  It is important to hold to the subordinate characteristic of Jesus' human nature and will to the eternal will of the Father and the Son.***

The subordination of Christ's human will  to the will of the Father is amply testified to in Scripture:  "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)  "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.'" (John 4:34)  "I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me." (John 5:30b)  "[T]he world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me." (John 14:31)  ". . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that he might rescue us from the present evil age in accord with the will of our God and Father . . . ." (Gal. 1:3b-4)

If the earthly work of God the Son is a revelation of the eternal relationship between God the Son and God the Father, how do we reconcile the lack of subordinationism in the eternal relationship between God the Father and God the Son (in his divine nature) with the clear subordinationsim that exists between God the Son (in his human nature) and God the Father?

To some extent, the reconciliation can be aided by removing from the relationship of the human nature of Christ and the Father all "negative qualities associated with some human experiences of obedience--for example, inequality, antagonism, power relations, and heteronomy."  Steck, 40.   (But this also runs the risk of perverting the relationship between man and God, which, of necessity is a relationship of unequals and has an element of heteronomy arising from our created nature, and indeed our created being, and its absolute reliance upon God. Our relationship with God is not a relationship of equals.)

 The Trinity Crowning the Blessed Virgin Mary by Enguerrand Charonton (1410-1466)

Modernly, the notion of subordinating oneself to another is unappetizing.  Of course, this does not mean we go about modifying our Trinitarian or Christological doctrines to suit modern, autonomous man (or modern, autonomous woman).  We are traveling on dangerous ground when we try to accommodate truth (dogma) to man, and not man to truth (dogma).

Von Balthasar seems to soften the blow of obedience by seeing subordination within the context of love and communion, so that obedience is seen as something that affirms one's being (and the other's being), and not something which deforms one's being.

[F]or von Balthasar interpersonal love includes a moment of obedience. The individual's response to the appearing form is always one of loving obedience or obedient loving. Loving the other means welcoming his or her address. In so receiving this address, the individual allows his identity to be shaped in part by the relationship with this other. His actions are realigned with the desire to "let be" this other. Thus obeying the beloved other need not be equated essentially with a submission response to outside intervention, though we recognize that all too often in human relationships that element dominates. Rather obeying the beloved can be a faithfulness to that which is already in some sense, though not entirely, internal to use because of our loving commitment.

Steck, 40-41. Relationships between persons are, moreover, principally communions--co-"unions of freedoms"--and not "monophonic exchanges."  They require that we be open to the other, that we suspend ourselves to be able to be receptive.  This obedience-as-suspended-receptivity and not obedience-as-unilateral-submission that von Balthasar stresses is what's involved.  As Steck elaborates this point:
It is misleading to describe this receptivity to the other simply as a mode or our own willing--that is, we will that the beloved's will be done. It is rather a suspended receptivity (or, indifference) to the essentially unknown and unanticipated, spontaneity and mystery of the other. This suspended receptivity, and not the element of coerciveness, is what von Balthasar underscores in his use of the language of obedience. This receptivity, we will see, is perfected in the individual's surrender to divine glory and his obedience to the Father's will.

Steck, 41. If Christ submission and subordination to the will of the Father (in his human nature) is seen as this "suspended receptivity," then we may analogize from that to the eternal "suspended receptivity" of the Son of God to the Father God.  By identifying the human "suspended receptivity" of Christ's human will as the revelation of the eternal "suspended receptivity" of Christ's divine will to the eternal will of the Father, we are further along to understanding how the revelation of the economic trinity is the revelation of the immanent trinity.  We are able, at least in von Balthasar's view, to overcome the problem of subordiationism that the Rahnerian axiom (economic Trinity as revealed in Christ = immanent Trinity as eternally existing) presents.

It is this sort of thinking that allows von Balthasar radically to appreciate what has eternally occurred in the relations within the Godhead (and so appreciate what occurs when we become participants of the divine life by grace):

The personal and total surrender of the Father in generating the Son is the ur-kenosis of the triune life and its primal shape. The Son cannot be God in any way other than by following this patter of self-giving. The kensoses of the Incarnation and of Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the regular pattern of earthly obedience are only new expressions of this triune way of being. The Father's gift of himself to the Son has its own dimension of receptivity as it includes a perfect receptivity or openness to the Son's return of all to the Father and thus something like obedience.

Steck, 41-42.

There are further effects of holding to the Rahnerian axiom that the economic Trinity reveals the immanent Trinity when we look at Christ's mission.  Is Christ's mission equally the eternal mission of the triune God? And if so, how?

*Orthodox Christology requires us to be dyothelitist (from Greek δυοθελητισμός = "doctrine of two wills"), not monothelitist (μονοθελητισμός = "doctrine of one will"). The Church teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures, divine and human, with two wills, divine and human. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 475) states: "Similarly, at the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 681, the Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human. They are not opposed to each other, but co-operate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation. Christ's human will 'does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will.'" 
**Cf. S.T. Ia, q. 42, art. 4, ad 1. St. Thomas addresses the objection that it would seem that the Son is not equal to the Father in greatness. "For He Himself said (John 14:28): 'The Father is greater than I'; and the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 15:28): 'The Son Himself shall be subject to Him that put all things under Him.'" His response: "These words are to be understood of Christ's human nature, wherein He is less than the Father, and subject to Him; but in His divine nature He is equal to the Father. This is expressed by Athanasius, 'Equal to the Father in His Godhead; less than the Father in humanity': and by Hilary (De Trin. ix): 'By the fact of giving, the Father is greater; but He is not less to Whom the same being is given'; and (De Synod.): 'The Son subjects Himself by His inborn piety'--that is, by His recognition of paternal authority; whereas 'creatures are subject by their created weakness.'" 
***This despite the objection of feminist theologians who fear the implications of patriarchy since if Jesus' human will is subordinate to the Father's eternal will, it suggests that our human will should be subordinate to the Father's will.  Here, their horror patriarchus leads them astray. 
†This point was discussed in our prior posting, "God's Glory Appears: The Trinity's at the Heart of It," which discussed the axiom that the "economic trinity truly reveals, is, the immanent trinity."

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