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, June 13, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Divine Drama and Divine Command

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR'S thoughts regarding aesthetics and our response to beauty (which is an analogy to our response to the glory of God) and its extension in the the dramatic art form (which is an analogy for understanding the "theodrama" of the Christ-event in its Trinatarian aspect) interplays with his voluntaristic or "divine command" ethical thought and so colors it and distinguishes it from more naked theories of divine command ethics such as Karl Barth's theory (which relies, of course, on its Calvinistic antecedents).

For von Balthasar, "the Godhead is already dramatic life, [and] God can encompass our drama into the divine dram.  This is the meaning and fruit of the Christ-event.  The drama of revelation is a new moment in the already existing drama among the processions" between the three persons of the Trinity.  Steck, 61.

A divine command theory of ethics "holds that the goodness of at least some acts depends in a nontrivial way on God's will."*  Steck, 59.  Von Balthasar appears to hold to a divine command theory of ethics, but it is radically colored or oriented by his  "divine address" theory.  Von Balthasar's divine command theory revolves around the address of God in the dramatic Christ-event.

"For von Balthasar and Barth, the new relationship that Christ effects between God and the human person is not at all peripheral to daily existence, but rather is an essential part of our manner of being in the world."** Steck, 59.  It, of course, involves a deeply personal encounter between one man and the one God.  It is an I-Thou ethic. 

Like any relationship, this divine-human relationship implies interchange, address, and response. And if our covenantal relationship with God is constitutive of our identity as a human person . . . then it follows that the address given us by God and our response to it affect us to our core; they establish us as persons.***

God's address to us in Christ, then, is not something extrinsic to us.  It is not simply carrying out something that God wishes; rather, it is something constitutive to the person, something that confirms us as persons, something that allows us to realize ourselves as persons in an authentic way.

Christ Calls Peter and Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna 

The notion of God addressing the human person in Christ is according to Steck something that fits neatly with a divine command theory of ethics, and this for a number of reasons.  First, divine ethics "understands moral action in terms of a response to God's personal call," and so shares in the quality of call-and-response that is central to Von Balthasar's view of the Christ-event.  It seems to be "word-based," not "thing-based" or "good-based."  Viewing the ethical life as call-and-response gives a personalistic ring to ethics, emphasizes the freedom in response, and avoids viewing ethics as involving obedience to "some kind of impersonally valid natural law."  (Steck, 60) (quoting TD2.292)  A command is different than a law.†

Second, a divine command theory is more easily fitted into a covenantal frame of reference.  The Christ-event is at root an invitation to a covenant, an invitation by a sovereign God to an insignificant man to participate in the Trinitarian life of God.  For von Balthasar, "obedience is not only a creaturely submission to God but also a participation in Christ's receptivity to the Father's will."  Steck, 60.  Such participation expands our personhood as it participates in divine personhood and so is ultimately freeing.  "[T]he address to the human existent, like the address of the Father to the Son, is autonomy-granting, personalizing, and indivudalizing."

This intimate, concrete, and covenantal view of von Balthasar's ethics makes it more mission-like.  The command that invites us into the Trinitarian life also invites us to share in the one mission of Christ.
God addresses humanity not only universally but personally, giving each of us a christological "name" that constitutes our idenity and the norm of our conduct. Thus, in describing divine desires for the human agent, von Balthasar rarely uses Barth's favored term, "command," preferring instead terms such as "call," "will," and "address," which have less punctualistic and occasionalistic connotations.

Steck, 60. 

A big distinguishing factor between Barth's ethics and von Balthasar's ethics may be what Barth (disparagingly) called the "damned Catholic And," das verdammte Katholische Und.††  In Barthian ethics, man is nothing next to the sovereign and infinite God.  In von Balthsarian ethics--which are founded within the Catholic tradition--man has his nobility even ad coram Dei. when face-to-face with God.  "For von Balthasar, however, the "And" is part of the glory--the "masterpiece," as he calls it--of God's act of establishing a covenantal relationship."  God "lifts up a genuine dialogue partner, by creating a space where divine and human freedom can encounter one another, without the latter becoming a moment in the former."  Steck, 61.

"The contingent, free [and autonomous] yes to God's address is the place where God's glory shines through in the earthly.  Eliciting this free yes is the goal of the divine drama in Jesus Christ."  Steck, 61.
*This definition given by Steck seems to prove too much, as it suggests that all theologically-based ethical theories are voluntaristic or divine command theories.  For the will of God to be trivial (which would be required to have a theory that is not based upon divine command, i.e., one based upon God's reason or ratio) is close to suggesting that such theories must hold that the natural moral law is untied to God's will, which comes close to saying that God's will is irrelevant in morality. 
**This, of course, is true for any Christian-based ethic. 
***This seems like a problematic formulation.  The address by God to us through Christ does not "establish us as persons."  We are persons by God's creative act (persons by nature) before God addresses us in Christ.  We are  a person that Christ saves, not a thing saved to be a person.
†A command without law (i.e., not placed within a greater context of law or reason) runs the risk of being arbitrary.  Hence the danger of divine command theories, which tend toward occasionalism.
††I haven't been able to find where this is in Barth's writings.  However, it is quoted (without reference) by Hans Küng in his Theologie im Aufbruch: eine ökumenische Grundlegung as the Barthian response to the Catholic insistence that Revelation is found in both Scripture and Tradition ("das verdammte katholische Und").  See also the translation of that work, Theology for the Third Millennium: An Ecumenical View (the "damned Catholic And").

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