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.

Friday, June 1, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Missio Christi Missio Verbi est

“FOR THIS WAS I BORN and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." These words of Jesus, spoken to Pilate as related in the Gospel of John (18:37), are at the heart of Christ's mission to the world. In a nutshell, they define the missio Christi.  For the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, the missio Christi is so central to the person of Jesus that it actually defines him.  It is for von Balthsar something "not extrinsic to his identity," but rather, it is his "personal identity."  If Christopher Steck is to be believed:

Jesus is defined completely by his mission; he has no personal self lying outside the task of the Father. The task of expression God "through his entire being, through his life and death in and for the world, totally occupies his self-consciousness and fills it to the very brim." . . . His mission is person-constituting; it transforms him into a unique individual with an identity out of which his action and life choices flow and to which they give expression

Steck, 42-43 (quoting TD3.172).   There is a contiguity and continuity in Christ's eternal personhood before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation.  Essentially, the personhood of Christ is the same: it is only the modality that changes, and that only by the assumption of the nature of humanity into the personhood of the Son.  The change occurs not in God, but in man, who is assumed into the Godhead through the incarnation of the Son. "In the Word's Incarnation, that personhood [of the Eternal Word] continues to be fully received from the Father, but now in the earthly modality of mission."  Steck, 42.

Since Jesus is a "person," and his mission is so central to his being, it follows that for von Balthasar, the mission of Jesus may be used as "the heuristic lens for understanding what it means to be a 'person.'"*

 The Trinity Embracing Fallen Mankind

In von Balthasar's view, the notion of "person" is not an extrinsic one, one fashioned from external activity to internal reality.  It is not imposed from outside to inside.  Rather, it is intrinsic and manifests the reality that at the center of personhood is gift, the girt of the Father in the bestowal of the mission to the Son.**  It is the eternal reality that flows outward.
. . . when Jesus lays hold of his mission and fashions it, he is not obeying some alien power. The Holy Spirit who inspires him is not only the Spirit of the Father (with whom the Son is "one") but also his own Spirit. We cannot imagine his mission ever having a beginning: he has always laid hold of it already.
TD3.198 (quoted in Steck,43)

There is something interesting here.  For von Balthsar, Christ's mission is not something imposed from outside; it is not something heteronomous.  Yet is is not something autonomous.  "We cannot get behind the mission to find in Jesus a neutral moment of personal freedom."  Steck, 43.  The mission defines the person, identifies the person, and to wrest the mission from the person of the Word--whether eternally or in its aeveternal modality after the Incarnation--would be not to give autonomy to Word but to de-personify him (if such a thing were possible).  To suggest autonomy of the Word separate and apart from the mission of the Word would be to remove it from the procession (begottenness) of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  It, in fact, would be to posit an "isolated . . . divine person who already bore his identity at his disposal and can now hover in indecision [or autonomy] before the Father's task."  Steck, 43.  This would be to posit tear apart the Trinity and suggest not one Godhead, but two.

If Christ's mission is so intrinsically bound with his personhood, then what does that mean for Christians who are called to be incorporated into his life?  What does it mean for us to become members of his Body, the Church?  This Christological incorporation is central to von Balthsaar's ethical theory, and to that issue we will devote our next posting.

*heuristic, from Greek eὑρίσκω, "to find" or "to discover," means a methodology, usually an experience-based technique for solving a problem, for learning, or for discovering something. Particularly when an exhaustive analysis is impossible or impractical, a heuristic method is one that allows for an intuitive, reliable judgment. In short, heuristic may colloquially be a sort of quick-and-dirty or rule-of-thumb method by which we can speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution to something that confronts us.
**This is a little troublesome: if the person of Son is defined by his mission, then is the Father or the Holy Spirit not a person, or a person in a manner distinct from the Son?

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