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.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jesus and the City

WHAT DOES JESUS HAVE TO DO with the the city? Understanding the term city in its broadest sense, that is, as any human community, the answer is everything. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name," Jesus says, "there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20) This is broad enough to include any human community, from marriage upwards. Jesus is thus at the center of the Church's social doctrine.

What, more precisely, is the "everything" that Jesus has to do with the human community? The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explores this and identifies those areas where Christ's role is key. We might call them the apocalyptical, the kenotic, the soteriological, the paradigmatic, the transformational, the eleutherian, and the transcendent.

The apocalyptical Christ and the apocalypse of man. The term apocalyptical comes from the Greek term apocalypsis which means "lifting of the veil," or revelation. In this sense, Jesus is the final apocalypse of God. "He who has seen me," Jesus says, "has seen the Father" (John 14:9). There is no veil between God and man in Christ: the veil of the temple that separated man from the Shekinah of God is rent forever. God is fully and finally revealed to man in Jesus. In Jesus one sees the naked God, as it were.

Our response to this great act of benevolence and mercy, of love, ought to be to remove the veils that separate us from Jesus. This is the meaning behind the beautiful formula of St. Jerome so loved by the Franciscans: Nudus nudum Christum sequi.* Nakedly we ought to follow the naked Christ. "Jesus' followers are called to live like him," the Compendium says, "and, after his Passover of death and resurrection, to live also in him and by him, thanks to the superabundant gift of the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, who internalizes Christ's own style of life in human hearts." (Compendium, No. 29)

Let us explore this a little more. What does Jesus reveal about God? How are we to be like him, and live in him, and by him? How is this possible?

Christ, Christians believe, is God incarnate. The ultimate meaning of the Incarnation is the"full revelation of Trinitarian love." (Compendium, No. 30) Most fundamentally, Christ reveals that "God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; truly distinct and truly one, because God is an infinite communion of love." (Compendium, No. 31)

Now, if man was made in God's image, as the first chapter of Genesis has taught us, and God is Trinity, it follows that man is made in the image of the Trinity. In our created nature is the image of the communion of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are by nature made to love others, and thereby imitate God.

Drawing on Pope John Paul II's insights, the Compendium summarizes this truth: "'To be human," therefore, "means to be called to interpersonal communion,' because the image and the likeness of the Trinitarian God are the basis of the whole 'human ethos, which reaches its apex in the commandment of love." (Compendium, No. 33) We are designed to be in communion with God and with all men as God is in communion within himself.

In John Paul II's highly-charged words: "Being a person in the image and likeness of God . . . involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other 'I'." (Compendium, No. 34)** This is a high calling, with both relation to the "other 'I'" above us, God, and relation to the "other 'I'" about us, our fellow man. Communion therefore has both vertical and horizontal components. This is reflected in the first table and second table of the Ten Commandments. "The revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love . . . sheds light on every aspect of the personal dignity and freedom of men and women, and on the depths of their social nature." (Compendium, No. 34)

This, of course, is something inaccessible to reason. Accepted by faith, it will, however, open up an entirely new realm of reality to reason. Christ's revelation about the internal life of God "has opened up new horizons [otherwise] closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine Persons and the union of the children of God in truth and love." (Compendium, No. 34)*** "Christian revelation shines a new light on the identity, the vocation, and the destiny of the human person and the human race." (Compendium, 35).

Using Platonic imagery, Christ has taken all mankind out of the cave. We no longer have to look at shadows, but we have access to the realities outside the cave. This is Christ's gift.

This means the Church has the key to understanding man that no other philosophy and no other religion has. This is her pearl of great price, her great treasure, her great boon to the world, and it means that the Church has the obligation to share this key and this treasure with every person.

The kenotic Christ and the kenotic man. Not only does Jesus reveal the Trinitarian life in God and in man, Jesus rendered that inexpressible love concrete in his exemplary passion and in his death, which represented the total giving of his self for others. This takes us to the kenotic message of Christ. Kenotic comes from the Greek word kenosis, which means emptying out. It comes to us from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians: "Jesus emptied himself (ekenosen), taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7).

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) by Salvador Dalí. (1954)

By his giving of himself, Christ revealed the hallmark of Trinitarian love. Jesus' commandment that we "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34), means that we have to learn to empty ourselves out so that we may give ourselves more effectively to others. "The commandment of mutual love, which represents the law of life for God's people," the Compendium states, "must inspire, purify, and elevate all human relationships in society and in politics."

The "Politics of Selfishness" as author Paul Nevins in a book by that title called the regime under which we live,† are anathema to the Christian, who follows an other-regarding kenotic paradigm entirely different from the self-regarding egotistic paradigm advocated by John Locke or Adam Smith or their legion of followers.††

The soteriological Christ and the soteriology of man. Christ's message is more than just reformist or prophetic; at its heart it is soteriological. The word soteriological comes from the Greek soteria, which means salvation.

It would be a mistake of huge proportions to limit Christ, as Thomas Jefferson did, to a mere moral teacher. Christ is more than a moral teacher, more than a moral model. Christ is man's savior, a unique, irreplaceable, and necessary office. "The salvation offered in its fullness to men in Jesus Christ . . . is salvation for all people and of the whole person: it is universal and integral salvation." (Compendium, No. 38)

Not only is Christ the savior of all men, he is the savior of every single part of man. We are not to parcel, bracket, or remove any part of human life from the salvation offered to us in Christ. Salvation, "concerns the human person in all his dimensions: personal and social, spiritual and corporeal, historical and transcendent." (Compendium, No. 38). Nothing human is outside the salvific pale of Christ.

In the Heautontimorumenos 1.1.25, the Roman playwright Terence said: "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto," which translated says, "I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me." Jesus Christ can say the same thing with an entirely different meaning. Nothing human is alien to Christ. Christ is alien to nothing human.

Now, as St. Augustine so felicitously phrased it, "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us."††† The salvation universal and integral offered to all men in Christ is not forced, as it "requires [man's] free response and acceptance." (Compendium, No. 39). Salvation is not forced, but the offer of salvation beckons, courts, even woos a response, an act of faith, an act in which a person freely commits his entire self to God. The divine bridegroom asks us to marry him as if we were to be his bride.

The other part of this message--that Christ is man's only salvation, man's only spouse, as it were--is this: that man can do nothing to save himself. There is nothing but "error and deception" in any "purely immanentistic visions of the meaning of history and in humanity's claims to self-salvation." The ideologies that are built by man as means for self-salvation--Communism, Fascism, Liberalism, even Islam--calculated to exclude the salvific Christ who is the one and only God, are nothing less than social, economic, political, or religious towers of Babel.‡ "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain." (Psalm 127:1)

Christ the paradigm of man. Christ's message is paradigmatic, exemplary. Christ gives us an example of what it means to love our neighbor. He is the incarnation, the paradigm, the epitome, the model of the Divine law in action, in all its concreteness: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk 12:29-31). It is Jesus who teaches us that we must love our fellow man, that he "must be treated as another self," whether he thinks and acts "differently from us in social, political, and religious matters" such as the Samaritan woman at the well, and indeed, "even if he is an enemy," such as Judas whom Christ loved and with whom Christ broke bread. (Compendium, Nos. 40, 43)

Even if he is an enemy, our neighbor must be treated as another self! Banned, then, is any form of dualistic ethic, of tribalistic moralism, an "us-them" mentality, where there is one moral law for "us," and another for "them." This seems like an impossible burden. Even the best of us are beset by sin, riddled with selfishness, and suffer from the weakness of the flesh, where even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Christ's paradigm seems impossible for man. And it is, unless we keep in mind the transformational Christ.

The transformational Christ and the transformation of man. "The inner transformation of the human person, in his being progressively conformed to Christ, is the necessary prerequisite for a real transformation of his relationships with others." (Compendium, No. 42) Social change cannot come about without an inner conversion, a conversion of the heart. "The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart," however, "in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it." (Compendium, No. 42‡‡)

This transformation--where we conform ourselves to Christ--is not the fruit of our own efforts. "This path requires grace, which God offers to man in order to help him overcome failings, to snatch him from the spiral of lies and violence, to sustain him and prompt him to restore with an ever new and ready spirit the network of authentic and honest relationships with his fellow men." (Compendium, 43)

Finally, this transformation will show itself not only in the manner in which he treats his neighbor, but in the manner that he treats the entirety of the created universe, and the "human activity aimed at tending it and transforming it, activity which is daily endangered by man's pride and by his inordinate self-love." (Compendium, 44).

Christ, therefore, will order the liberal and fine arts, technology, even science, for, although they have a certain autonomy relative to their discipline which needs to be respected, these also are meant to operate under the transformative power of Christ, so that they are used not for selfish reasons, but as an expression of love of neighbor and act within the confines of the natural law.

The euletherian Christ and the authentic freedom of man. By demanding man to follow the way of love exhibited by God to man in Christ, man is in no wise restricted or constrained. No. Rather this demand is a call to freedom, to authentic liberty. For this reason, the last of the implications of Christ's revelation is eleutherian, from the Greek word eleutheria, meaning freedom. "[T]he more that human realities are seen in the light of God's plan and lived in communion with God," the Compendium observes, "the more they are empowered and liberated in their distinctive identity and in the freedom that is proper to them." (Compendium, No. 45)

Though activities of man have a certain ordered autonomy and independence, it is a falsehood of great proportion to suggest that any discipline of man is entirely autonomous from God. Quoting from Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, the Compendium concludes: "If the expression 'the autonomy of earthly affairs' is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without reference to the Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator, the creature would disappear." (Compendium, No. 46).

It is absurd to believe that anything can have reality apart from God.

The transcendent Christ and man's transcendent destiny. Man is not meant for this world, but is meant for another world. Christ, who was God transcendent and God immanent, pointed to this reality. "The human person, in himself, and in his vocation, transcends the limits of the created universe, of society, and of history: his ultimate end is God himself." (Compendium, No. 47) This transcendent destiny makes man's earthly existence relative to another, greater, overarching existence. The Compendium calls this reality the eschatological relativity and theological relativity. All things in heaven and on earth are passing, and they are relative to our ultimate eternal destiny, and relative to the one God who is our destiny.

This truth relativizes all human plans and activities, since it puts at the forefront persons, and most especially the three persons in one God. Quoting from John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus,‡‡‡ the Compendium states: "Man cannot give himself to a purely human plan for reality, to an abstract ideal, or to a false utopia." Anything short of God will result in man's alienation from his destiny and alienation from his brother.

"[A] man is alientated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the experience of self-giving and of the formation of an authentic human community oriented towards his final destiny, which is God." But not only may man be alienated from God. A society can be similarly alienated from God. "A society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production, and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self [to God and to others] and to establish this solidarity between people." (Compendium, No. 47)

The transcendent destiny of man relativizes of all of man's temporal doings. At the same time, that destiny will reject any vision man which refuses to recognize that transcendent destiny. For any absolutization of man's earthly world is a form of idolatry. "Any totalitarian vision of society and the State, and any purely intra-worldly ideology of progress are contrary to the integral truth of the human person and to God's plan in history." (Compendium, No. 48)

These are bold words, bold concepts. Where does the Church get the audemus dicere, the "we have the courage to say," to the world that she holds the key to man's nature, to his social relations, to his history, to his freedom, and to his ultimate destiny?

In the final introductory component of the Compendium, the divine warrant of the Church, her credentials as it were to speak to all men, is placed before the world.
*St. Jerome uses it in Letter 125 and in his Homily on Luke.
**Quoting John Paul II,
Mulieris dignitatem, 7.
***Quoting VII,
Gaudium et spes, 24.
†Paul Nevins, The Politics of Selfishness: How John Lock's Legacy is Paralyzing America (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010).
††As one instance of Lockean thinking which is fundamentally anti-Christian, we might point to the following: "***"
†††St. Augustine, Sermo 169.10(13) ("
Qui ergo fecit te sine te, non te iustificat sine te")
‡Islam may be the most vicious and most intractable since it excludes God as Trinity and Christ as God from all institutions which it comprehends--political, economic, legal, familial, social, religious. And it does so claiming the warrant of God, under the auspices of a Monotheism which is anti-Trinitarian and anti-Christian. By definition, Islam, which is an utterly comprehensive doctrine of life, expressly excludes God as Trinity and Christ as God.
‡‡Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1888.
‡‡‡John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 41.

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