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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

God's Glory Appears: I-Thou Love

THE LAST CHARACTERISTIC of the horizontal component of Christian morality--the love of neighbor in the love of God--is that it seeks communion with the other. It is characterized by its reaching out to others.  Our neighbor is a place where we encounter God, and the communion to which we are called in God is in a manner reflected in the communion to which we are called to be with our neighbor.

Just as the relationship between God and man has been severed by the Fall but restored by Christ, so similarly has the relationship between man and man which has been severed by the Fall be restored by Christ.  We are called to love our neighbor, and this love, which expresses itself in communion, is "the fruit of the economy [of salvation] in the horizontal realm."  Steck, 118.  As von Balthasar succinctly puts it: "The divine love which is bestowed vertically by God on sinful men is glorified 'horizontally' in the love of human fellows." GL7.433.  Neighborly love ushers us into the love of God: "In brotherly love, the created world is permitted to enter the divine world." GL7.517.

This horizontal component of God's love and reconciliation is manifested in a manner in the Sacraments.  As Steck explains it:

[I]n no other place does the glory of the crucified and risen Christ shine more brightly in the Christian's life than in the eucharistic love that restores the bonds of fellowship with the alienated brother or sister. Christian love follows Christ and seeks communion with the one seemingly furthers from one: the sinner. Reconciliation is more than one in an array of praiseworthy endeavors. It is the goal that shapes the Christian's response to evil and to the fallenness of the world.

Steck, 118. Importantly, for von Balthasar, this sort of reconciliation occurs principally within the Church.  It is therefore most perfectly manifested ecclesially.

This horizontal component of love of neighbor in some way feeds the vertical component, so that loving neighbor helps or increases the love of God.  Yet the horizontal component cannot be had without the vertical component.  There is no real love of neighbor without love of God.  There is no real love of God without love of neighbor.  Each will whither without the other.

Steck identifies some "side constraints" as "a natural and necessary development" of von Balthasar's thought, although he admits that they are not "explicit" in von Balthsar's work.  He divides these "side constraints" into "agent-relative constraints" and "neighbor-relative constraints."

"Agent-relative constraints" are those which might be encapsulated in the saying "it takes two to tango."  The relationship of communion is a dual, I-Thou relationship.  One cannot be in communion with another who loses his individuality, who "allows himself to dissolve into the identity of the other."  Steck, 119.  One sees this sort of loss of self in Eastern religions, in Hinduism and in Buddhism, where complete absorption of the self into the Absolute is seen as Nirvana.  As much as the Christian doctrine emphasizes that we lose our self in the Absolute, it never suggests an extinction of self.  By losing oneself one finds oneself.  (e.g. Matt. 10:39)

Another way of looking at the "agent-relative constraint" is to realize that for there to be an I-Thou relationship there has to be both an I and a Thou.  This means that regardless of the intimacy of communion, there remains a distinction between the two persons.  "Difference, separation, and space between two individuals are required if a genuine image of the Trinity is to appear in the earthly domain."  Steck, 119.  What this means is that there is a "legitimate kind of self-regard that is essential," and so therefore is a "agent-relative constraint" "for relationship with another."  Steck, 119.

The "neighbor-relative constraints" involve the recognition that encourage the other to be what they can be.  Specifically, "the Christian cherishes what the [other] person can be before God--hence the 'side constraints' on what Christian love can aspire to accomplish for the neighbor."  There is a certain uniqueness and yet a certain universality in this "what the person can be before God."  So the understanding of it is not entirely nominalistic, but has a universal component:
The neighbor's relationship with God is one only he can choose to accept and only he can make the final discernment about what personal path God has given him to follow. Nonetheless, since all are invited into covenantal life with God and since that relationship is mediated in the present created order, we can rightly expect that the kinds of particular supports and loves for the concrete neighbor demanded of the Christian will not be nominalistic.
Steck, 120.  For example, a neighbor could not be said to claim that his personal path to God would include a homosexual relationship which includes genital expression, as such would no longer be one that acts within the created order, but acts outside of it.  Though each person's path to God is individual, it is not for that without any law or order.  Love is never lawless, though it might surely go beyond law, it certainly will not go against it.

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