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, July 18, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Christ is in my Neighbor

VON BALTHASAR STRUGGLES to reconcile the ethical validity of the created order with the Christian particularism that comes from the dramatic or aesthetic encounter with Christ. The effort is perhaps nowhere better seen than in the manner that he handles the issue of the love of neighbor.  In handling the issue of love of neighbor, von Balthasar has both the horizontal I-Thou relationship (man/man) and the vertical I-Thou (man/God) relationship working together.  Universalism may be found in the former; Christian particularism may be found in the latter.  The particular and the universal therefore work together.  "Because the interpersonal encounter among human persons is refashioned in Christ's light, it represents a boundary test case for the claim that creation preserves its relative autonomy within von Balthasar's Christian particularism."  Steck, 112.

In addressing the issue of love of neighbor, von Balthasar identifies six indicia (what Steck calls "aspects") of how love of neighbor ought to be reflected in the Christian.  These indicia or aspects define the "moral space" within which the Christian must act.  They appear analagous to the Barthian "formed refdrences."  Steck, 112.

We might enumerate them first, and then elaborate upon them:
  1. In the new order that Christ ushers in, the neighbor is the mediator of God's call to us;
  2. The love of neighbor to which the Christian is enjoined is at the same time a loving response to the person call of God;
  3. Christian love is responsive: it is a grateful answer to what it has received.  The Christian response is therefore to be seen not as a naked moral act, but always  as answer to God's address;
  4. Christian love is influenced or moved by christological hope for neighbor;
  5. Christian love of neighbor is eucharistic love; and
  6. Christian love seeks communion with one's neighbor.
These six features or aspects of Christian ethics as it relates to love of neighbor provide little guidance; but they might be seen as more of the spirit or animus that ought to drive the Christian in his day-to-day activities in his efforts to apply the love of God through love of neighbor.

For von Balthasar, the Christian encounters Christ in his neighbor.  This arises from the Word's assumption of human nature, an assumption which puts the Word in solidarity with mankind.  The solidarity is complete, total, without limit.  In a manner of speaking, since mankind has been assumed by the Word into the Godhead, our neighbor is in solidarity with God.  There is no man, woman, or child that remains unaffected by Christ's incarnation. 

We are therefore called to reject any sort of attitude or behavior which puts up walls, which isolates us from the other.  Anything that compromises solidarity might be seen as against God's will.  If the Lord Jesus is in solidarity with all mankind, how is it that we might act differently and be in solidarity with a portion of mankind?

There is definitely a two-way dynamic.  Christ's presents humanity in solidarity to the Godhead. Christ presents the Godhead in solidarity with humanity.  There is therefore a movement up and a movement down.  A de arriba and a de abajo.  We are called to see God as Jesus the God-Man saw God.  We are called to see man as Jesus the God-Man sees man.

 Are Saul Alinsky and Dorothy Day really doing the same thing?

The Incarnation is revolutionary, not only in terms of man's relationship to God, but also in terms of man's relationship with man:

[The incarnation] changes everything, for from now one, one's fellow man--whether friend or for--is the brother for whom Christ died . . . each individual who can be addressed humanly as "Thou" is raised to the status of a "Thou" for God, because God's true "Thou," his "chosen" and "beloved" "only Son" has borne the guilt of this human "Thou" and has died for him, and therefore can identify himself with every individual at the last judgment.

Steck, 113 (quoting GL7.439)  This is Christian particularism: how could it not be?  The Christian is given a vision of the love of God for man which is the impetus for the love of neighbor.  To reject the insight of the Incarnation in pursuit of a sort of universalism would be actually to work against the solidarity with all mankind.  An ethical universalism without Christ would be a seriously limiting vision of mankind's calling.  It would be a rejection of Christ and all he has wrought.

But something seems wrong in von Balthasar's formula.  He seems to have universalized the particular, to have naturalized the supernatural, to have conflated grace and nature, to have collapsed things when he says such things as: "whoever endeavors to struggle against injustice and to bring about justice in the world in a quite direct way with the God of revelation and of love and grace, whether he knows it or not."  (Steck, 114, quoting "Secular Piety?" in Creator Spirit, 360).  Or when he says things such as: "It follows that everything that human endeavour achieves in respect of the commission given at creation--the struggle against injustice, hunger, sickness, need and depravity, and the struggle for better conditions of life, education, wages, etc.--acquires a positive significance in view of what God has done in Christ and of the help of the Holy Spirit, and that nothing of this will be lost ultimately."  (GL7.519)

If all human effort at a better world is done "in Christ" willy nilly, then why preach Christ?  Is Mother Theresa really doing the same thing as Karl Marx?  Is Dorothy Day really doing the same thing as Saul Alinsky?  Is St. Katharine Drexel really doing the same thing as the Reverend Jesse Jackson?

No.  Despite some of the deeply satisfying portions of von Balthasar's thought, there are parts of it that simply seem dissatisfying. 

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