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 6, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Holy Spirit as "Liquefaction" of Christ

VON BALTHASAR'S MORAL THEOLOGY is Trinitarian in focus. It follows that he puts equal emphasis on the three persons of the Trinity is understanding the Christian's moral life. The Holy Spirit is "the cohesive force of the drama of salvation and the 'agent' who brings it to its fulfillment." Steck, 48.

Von Balthasar does not see the Spirit as something that propels us into the Trinitarian life like the wind billows up the sails of a sail boat. Rather, he sees the spirit as something that propels us from within, perhaps more like the wind through a flute that elicits beautiful sounds.  This Spirit works inwardly, as it were, opening "our eyes to see the beauty, the glory, of the Christ-form and thus engenders in us a willingness, 'called faith,' where we 'allow love to have its way.'"  Steck, 48 (quoting GL7.401) 

Living in the Spirit is therefore not a self-abasement or self-neglect.  Rather "to be 'in the Spirit' . . . means to make this active and dramatic law of love the law of one's active existence."  To be sure, it requires a self-surrender, the surrender of faith.  But this surrender allows the "rhythm of the Spirit to become our rhythm," and it allows us to "enter into the kind of participation in divine life that God has made possible for us."  Steck, 48-49.

To live in the Spirit is to participate in the triune life of God.  Life "in Christ" is not possible except by life "in the Spirit."  This dynamism is viewed by von Balthasar thus:

We might say that the Incarnation introduces human nature into the Godhead, and, in turn, God brings the Christian into the triune life "in Christ." The incorporation into Christ is accomplished through the Spirit. In the Spirit we too face the eternal Father in praise and adoration.
'[T]he dialogue [of prayer] is not between our spirit and the Pneuma, but between our spirit, borne by the Pneuma, and the Father, a dialogue in which the Pneuma cannot be other than the Pneuma of the Son, in whom we have come to sare in sonship . . . [and are] drawn into the event of the eternal generation of the Son.'
Steck, 49 (quoting GL.7.405)
Cumean Sybil by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino) 

Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo:   
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.
Tu modo nascenti puero, quo ferrea primum
desinet ac toto surget gens aurea mundo,
casta fave Lucina: tuus iam regnat Apollo.    

 The last age of the Cumaean Sybil's song has come.
The mighty sequence of ages is born and begins anew.   
 Now the Maiden returns. The reign of Saturn returns.
Now a new generation descends from heaven on high.
At the birth of the child in whose time the iron race
shall cease and a golden race inherit the whole earth,
smile, O chaste Lucina: now your Apollo reigns.

--Virgil, Eclogue IV.3-10

There is a tendency to view the Holy Spirit as a sort of "force" or "faceless God."  To be viewed correctly, however, it must not be forgotten that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, a "personal Other."  Nor, however, must the doctrine of "appropriation" be forgotten.*  The role of the Spirit is essentially one to set us free.  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  (Gal. 5:1)  The Holy Spirit is at the center of this God-granted freedom:
The Spirit bestows the freedom, spontaneity, and creativity of divine love by gracing Christians--and even non-Christians--with the gifts and apostolic tasks that will, in turn, 'personalize' them and allow their unique share in the one mission of Christ.
Steck, 49.**

It is the Spirit that allows the Christian disciple to effect the imitatio Christi, to live "in Christ."  Indeed, in a vivid image, von Balthasar sees the Holy Spirit as the person of God who "liquefies" Christ, so that the "historical Christ" is brought out from his one-time and one-place into a "universal reach," thus "granting the believer access" to Christ "through a simultaneity of mission."  (Steck, 49-50) (citing TD3.38-39) 

The Holy Spirit acts ad intra (within the Trinity) and ad extra among men.  This role is symphonic:

The Sprit is the bond of the free and personal exchange of love first and foremost between the Father and Son [ad intra]. But the Spirit also effects this creative and free bond between God and human person [ad extra]. In the presence of the Spirit, the human response is given divine breadth. . . . The Spirit bridges and resolves the disparities between the divine and human.

Steck, 50.

The Holy Spirit is not impeded by our limits or our sinfulness,*** but indeed overcomes them.  Thus the Spirit "is the guarantor that the good and loving elements in the Christian's actions, always touched by human perversity, will be made a cohesive part of God's work of salvation."  Steck, 50.

*For the doctrine of appropriation see here.  Essentially, however, appropriation is the doctrine that God's actions ad extra are shared among all persons of the Trinity; however, particular actions, though engaged in by all three persons of the Trinity, may be associated with one particular person of the Trinity. 
** In a footnote, Steck states the following: "The freedom of the Spirit 'to blow where he wills' extends beyond the bounds of the visible church. The Spirit can thus 'spread God's graces and secret revelations even outside the visible Church.  The Church of the earliest period certainly knew all this, and it is humiliating for us to have to learn it anew after so many centuries of at least partial forgetting.'"  Steck, 175 (quoting von Balthasar, "Council of the Holy Spirit," in Creator Spirit, 262-630. This is a truth which can be overemphasized to the point of destroying the importance of the Church and the Christian dispensation, making it boundary-less, but which can also be under-emphasized so as to view the Church as a sort of bottle where the Spirit does not work outside of the Church.  One should remember that in the Middle Ages, both the Cumaean Sibyl and Virgil--pagans both--were considered prophets of the birth of Christ.  The fourth of Virgil's Eclogues was viewed as having a Messianic prophecy. In the fourth of Virgil's Eclogues, the Cumean Sybil foretells the coming of a savior.  Christians viewed this as a prophetic intimation of the coming of Christ.  For this reason, Dante selected Virgil as his guide through the underworld (but not in Paradise!).  In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted the Cumean Sybil with the Old Testament prophets.  To suggest from the fact that the Holy Spirit works outside the borders of the visible Church that the Holy Spirit works with all fullness outside the confines of that visible Church, however, would be error.  It would be to pit Christ's Body (into which we are incorporated) against the Holy Spirit (who works against incorporation).  Similarly, one must not forget that some Churches (such as the Orthodox Church) have valid apostolic succession and priesthood, and so valid Sacraments, even though they are outside the unity of the Catholic Church.  Surely the Holy Spirit is present to confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in such Churches?  Finally, it has always been held that anyone--even an unbaptized person can baptize another; thus being a conduit for the Holy Spirit. But this same Spirit who works outside the walls of the Church, must also be seen as constantly endeavoring to bring those outside the confines of the Church into the Church's fullness, and never as endeavoring to take souls outside of the Church.
***An example of this might be the fact that even a priest in mortal sin can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist since the sacrament is confected ex opere operato. The sin of the priest does not present an obstacle the Holy Spirit cannot overcome.

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