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, June 17, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Prophet of all Prophets on the Cross

THE NOTION OF OBEDIENCE plays an important role in von Balthasar's understanding of ethics.  However, his understanding of obedience is not a concept of submission to an external authority.  His concept of obedience is how he characterizes an authentic human response to beauty, in particular, to the beauty of the divine form in response to the divine address, a response to the glory of God expressed in the theodrama, specifically, the Christ-event.  Obedience is, in von Balthasar's view, response to God's glory, in particular God's salvific work in Christ.

The Christ-event revolutionizes the Christian and transforms his ethics.  The obediential (if also fully autonomous) response of a Christi to Jesus is one informed by thanksgiving, by gratitude, ultimately by love.

The form of the crucified love "is so majestic" that its perception "exacts" something from the beholder, an "attitude of adoration." [But it also] transfixes it: the Christian lives and acts in the horizontal but with eyes of love turned upward. The moral good now includes a contemplative dimension, not only in discerning the good but also as an essential aspect of what it means to live that good. This essential verticality opens our lives to the personal God of Jesus Christ because it is in this moral response tied to God that we are receptive to being surprised, challenged, disturbed, undeservedly called, and unexpectedly favored by God's addressing word.

Steck, 66. The vertical component is central, and von Balthasar is unwilling to bracket it from any other component of the moral life (what we might call the "horizontal" component).  It follows that a notion of "natural law" that is removed from the Cross is foreign to von Balthasar.  The Cross is too central to von Balthasar's ethics for him to engage in the notion of pure nature.  Grace is preeminent.

Interpreted in light of the New Testament, the Old Testament can be seen as prefiguring this life of obedience to God's progressive revelation to Abraham, to Moses, and to the prophets.  But this revelation was limited, as was its response.  "The word was heard, but it did not have the power to claim its hearers in the depths of their being, to open their eyes, and to enable them to embrace the truth it proclaimed."  Steck, 69.

It is at the Cross that von Balthasar finds the prefigured obedience resplendently displayed, transformed so that it demands a completely new response, a total response.  "Only here, in the Word made visible as love, and not just as "heard," does that Word claim the full and perfect response of its recipients, a response that is not only obedient but loving."  Steck, 70.

It is as if the entirety of man's salvation history--from Fall to Redemption in Christ--is played out in the life of every person who beholds Christ on the Cross.  He realizes he is fallen, that he is no longer in status naturae integrae, but rather in status naturae lapsae.  This lapsed state requires fixing, and Christ on the gross allows him to repair this lapsed status.  The beholder of the Crucified One therefore finds the means to repair what is broken.  He finds himself in status naturae reparandae, a repairing stage, a status which is intended to lead to a full fixing of his human nature into the status naturae reparatae.  And these stages occur over and over again in the Christian ethical life.  What is sinful in us is a departure from what we are, in our full integrity, intended to be. Christ helps repair that sinfulness in us, and we overcome that sin and gain a new integrity.  All this is empowered by being transfixed upon the One who is transfixed for us on the Cross.
The Christ-event is the central act of the drama, its unifying center, and the point at which the economy [of salvation] becomes a coherent drama. However, the Christ-form is perceived not only by attending to those acts prior and subsequent to the central act of Incarnation, death, and resurrection. Those acts are themselves part of the form of Christ--not in the sense of component elements but rather, in line with Irenaeus's idea of recapitulation, they are the beginning and promise to which Christ is the end and fulfillment.

Steck, 70.  It is as if we see in Christ the entirety of salvation history as manifested in the prophets.  We see the "absoluteness of God's, in contradistinction to human, measure" as proclaimed by the prophet Amos.  We see the "necessary disposition of all spheres," a life ready to be given for God's use, as we seen in Hosea.  We see "the awe and submission of that divine majesty" that is found in Isaiah, the seeming "total futility" of mission as we find in Jeremiah, and the "surrender . . . [of] very self to the mission he was given," such as we see in Ezekiel.  Jesus is the sum total of the prophets.

Again, obedience to command is central to the Christian ethical life in von Balthasar's ethical construct.  And just as the prophets were, in varying ways, obedient to their call, to their mission, so also do we find this in pure form expressed in Jesus, since the "earthly obedience of Christ includes these elements of prophetic obedience" manifested by Israel's earlier prophets.  Steck, 71.

The Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland

It must, however, be insisted that what we have in Christ on the Cross is not simply all the earlier prophets rolled into one.  We have that, but we have something here that is remarkably unique.  It is a one-of-a-kind event that demands obedience of another kind entirely.  Christ's obedience demands our obedience because it is historically and ontologically unique:

The obedience of Christ becomes "the place where the glory [i.e., God] may give utterance to itself" and reveal itself as "boundless self-giving love". In Christ's fidelity to the Father's will, the human word stretches to heaven and begins an unbreakable dialogue of love between the Father and sinful humanity. And as the Christian comes to share in the story of triune love, not merely as recipient off its gift but also as a real participant in the central role, so too will the Christian's life reflect the layered richness of salvation history, including the notes of the discontinuity of prophetic obedience so recapitulated in the obedient and loving surrender of the Son.
Steck, 71.

For von Balthasar, the unique sort of obedience mandated by the Christ-event is not at cross-purposes with human fulfillment.  Indeed, that obedience is intrinsic to human fulfillment.  To see how this is so, however, we need to look at what von Balthasar understands as human fulfillment.  We will look at that in our next posting.

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