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.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Admirabile Commercium

IN PRIOR POSTINGS, we have addressed the relations among the persons of the Trinity, the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the mission of Christ. These three components are all important in von Balthasar's ethical theory because the Christian is incorporated into Christ and through this incorporation shares in a manner of speaking in these three components. This "new life in Christ" is at the heart of the Balthasarian ethical enterprise.

Von Balthasar's ethics are deeply Christocentric:

Christ stands at the center of the drama of salvation, and he does so in such a way that he gathers and realigns all the other themes, images, and events of revelation. Christ is the one "who upholds the creation and is its justification." He is "the ultimate meaning of the whole creation and as the revelation of the Father inherent in it from the beginning."

Steck, 43.  Christ must be understood within the context of salvation history, starting from the proto-evangelium forwards.  All of these point to and culminate in the Paschal Mystery.  It is Paschal Mystery that becomes the "heuristic key for all salvation history."  The Paschal Mystery extends beyond the Cross, and embraces the entire Triduum: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

What Christ did is at the heart of everything.  One must begin with the Incarnation itself.  The Incarnation is that marvelous event where the Son of God took on "the human condition radically, deciding out of divine freedom to give himself over in kenotic self-abandonment and to make the burden of finite freedom his own."  Steck, 44.  God therefore "bridges the chasm of human alienation not through an eternal decision lying solely within the Godhead . . . [but] steps dramatically onto the stage of human existence and brings the drama of triune life to it, in order to lead the human drama, from within, to God's ordained conclusion."  Steck, 44.

But this kenosis of God through the person of the Son, who deemed equality with God nothing to be grasped at, is marvelous in its plenitude.  Christ takes onto himself the entire experience of man: physical pain, unjust suffering, unjust death.  The bloody death of Christ is no "bloodless myth," but a full participation in the wrath of God and the demands of the covenant.*  Christ takes unto himself the descent into Hell where he "endures the full consequences of this condition, living in solidarity with sinful humanity and thus sharing their dreadful alienation from God." Steck, 44.

Christ's mission is to beckon, woo, draw "broken existence into the fullness of trinitarian life."  It is more than some forensic declaration of righteousness.  It is the "incredible gift of incorporating the human life into divine life."  Steck, 45.  To quote von Balthasar's view:
If the impossible happens; if the absolute not only irradiates finitude but actually becomes finite, something unimaginable happens to existence: what is finite, as such, is drawn into what is ultimate and eternal; what is finite in its temporal extension, in each one of its moments and their interconnection, and not merely, for instance, in its final result.

Steck, 45 (quoting TD4.132)  The result of God becoming creation is to incorporate creation into the Godhead.  There is a two-fold movement: a downward kenotic movement and a parallel if reciprocal movement of the "ascent of human nature into God."  Steck, 46.  This is at the heart of incorporation.  The notion of incorporation into the Godhead through Christ's incarnation is central to Balthasarian ethics:

The radicality of von Balthasar's anthropology emerges here. For he will root the subjectivity and agency of the Christian as deep within the trinitarian relations as the former's creaturely limits will allow. We are re-created, not just healed of our sinful brokenness, but raised to new, exalted status before God, or, better, in God. The insertion of the human creature into divine life is made possible only because in God there is already "other," triune other. God's relatedness to the finite creature compromises the integrity of neither party. In making the human person, one "so unfit for speech" (TD2.272), into a partner of God, God continues to be absolutely self-giving and personal love. At the same time, the human creature does not leave behind its humanity for a pseudo-divinity. Rather, the human person is lifted up--with his finitude and sinfulness--into the triune divine life as human at the point of interchange where the divine became human, that is, int he Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

Steck, 45.

This is the result of the "wonderful commerce," the admirabile commercium, between God and man in Christ.  In ethics, it is the "human side" of the admirabile commercium that is the focus.  "The Christian is incorporated into the life of Christ and thus is formed into his praxis."  Steck, 46.

Steck identifies two arguments for this participation in Christ's life as central to ethics.  The first is the Pauline notion of living "in Christ" (ἐν Χριστῷ). The second is living within the life of the Holy Spirit, which he sees as a sort of "liquefying" of Christ. Our next post shall be about this notion of living in Christ, ἐν Χριστῷ. The posting following shall be about the Holy Spirit.
*Von Balthasar rejects theories of imputation or solidarity as explanations of how the suffering death of Jesus is efficacious for man.  "The only help is to be had from the New Testament's idea of the divine love that out of love takes upon itself the sin of the world."  Steck, 44 (quoting GL7.207)

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