Thursday, July 28, 2005

Zubizantine Theology: The Incarnation (Part 7)

From the Zubiri's definition of reality in respectivity to God, it is now logical to move to the exceptional case in which the respectivity reaches the point of actually terminating within the Trinitarian life itself. This is exactly the Incarnation. Zubiri introduces the concept in the following manner, taken from Christianity (© 2001-2005 by Joaquín Redondo. Permission to republish in any form is hereby granted, provided that source is acknowledged):

We have seen in the previous chapters that God, as absolutely absolute reality, is an absolute “giving of itself” because all reality is active in and of itself. And this giving of itself is what in an active way, although analogously conceived, must be called, and is called procession. This procession in God has different aspects. There is a procession in God himself, and by God himself, namely, the double aspect of generation and spiration. But there is something else, a procession that freely initiates something that is outside God or is not God himself, what we call the initiating procession. And yet, this initiating procession is in itself identical to the processions of generation and spiration with the only difference that its terminus is free. On the other hand, the other terminus is absolutely necessary. Precisely because of this, while giving of itself to himself in His internal reality is really and definitely a procession ad intra, a constitution of the very Trinitarian reality of God, this giving of itself, when it refers to an initiating procession, is just what we call donation.

Hence, this donation can have different degrees and aspects. We have seen one, which is a donation that consists in molding the very Trinitarian life outside of God. That is the formal reason for creation. Creation, from a concrete point of view, {234} and not from what it might have been de potentia Dei absoluta (it is useless to talk about this), is really and effectively the molding ad extra of the Trinitarian life of God. But there is a second degree in which donation and the giving of itself can refer not to molding the Trinitarian life of God ad extra, but to give creation the very personal reality of God, which He gives to himself as reality. However, in this case that initiating procession, free by reason of its terminus, makes that in this terminus the Trinitarian processions be identified with the terminus of the initiating procession. And this identity is just the personal reality of Christ. This is what we have to consider in this chapter.

To begin with, let us remember that as every operation ad extra (and the Incarnation, undoubtedly is an operation ad extra, since God does not incarnate inside himself) is an operation performed by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, here the terminus of the procession (of the Incarnation) is the Word as such. And consequently, here it is the Father who in the Holy Spirit and by the Holy Spirit gives the reality of his own Word to creation. Of course, for this he needs to give it (at least in fact it has been done that way) to a reality Trinitarially structured. In the concrete case we are studying, in a man. It follows that this man will be eo ipso the Word of God, and therefore his Son. This is the fact of Incarnation.

Zubiri notes that the Incarnation has suffered from a tendency to separate the "functional" description of the New Testament from the "speculative" dimension of theology inaugurated by Ephesus:

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that here, just as in the case of the Trinity, an enormous abyss separates the language and concepts of the dogmatic definitions of the Church, from the concepts and terms used in the New Testament. If the New Testament had been written in terms of person and phúsis, who would have been able to understand it? There is an unfathomable abyss. This abyss has led to the thought that they are two completely different perspectives, which in a certain sense is true. The New Testament and Biblical perspective, called “functional”, expresses the divinity of Christ in this {262} case, and in general in all theological matters, within the dimension of functions of religious life. Next to it we have this other dimension, which is not illegitimate, but just different. It would be a speculative dimension adopted by the Church precisely after Adoptionism and at the start of Nestorianism.

But this separation comes from an imprecise metaphysical understanding of functionality in the realm of metaphysics:

In a certain way all this is true, but it is not the radical truth. From my point of view this is simply so because of two reasons. One, because it may be said with clarity and truth that the metaphysical system the Church has used in its expression of dogmas is a Greek metaphysical system, and as such is not canonized at all. This precisely leaves open to human ways a different metaphysical answer than the one left to us by the Greek world concerning what reality may be. On the other hand, less pleasing to those in favor of the functional dimension, is it true that the content of the New Testament, by not being speculative, only provides us with a functional perspective? And what is meant by functionality? No one tells us. It should have been made explicit when two theologies are going to be confronted the speculative theology, and the critical theology. The abyss that separates these two theologies essentially depends on a fundamental question. What is understood by that functionality?

Where Zubiri can get beyond previous metaphysical explanation is by putting personhood, "his-ownness," at the level of reality, which is prior to self-expression through intellect and will. Thus, one can understand how "his-ownness" can be expressed both through a divine intellect and will and a human intellect and will in one personal reality. In the case of God, the respectivity that connects the divine "his-ownness" to the human is related to the fontanal presence of God in all reality as reality, but transcending all lesser degrees of such presence to an entirely different level of intimacy (contra Adoptionism). It seems more straightforward to me to explain Zubiri's conclusions before explaining the reasons for those conclusions, although Zubiri himself did not do so. This is because I believe many readers will be more familiar with the language of Christian history (particularly Chalcedon and Constantinople) than with Zubiri's use of terminology, so that it will be easier to explain Zubiri in better-known terms rather than vice versa. Therefore, I advance to the conclusion, in which Zubiri explains the Incarnation of the Word in the following way:

And that Person gives itself to creation, to the creation of a concrete man to whom in its physical reality that Person is now physically immanent. Or, putting it from the other point of view, this human reality is constitutively immersed in the divinity. Nevertheless, in this immanent presence of God in creatures (after all the humanity of Christ is a creature like any one of us) there are many degrees.

In the first place, we do have the reality of the divine presence in all of creation by reason of the very fontanality with which God has produced all things, and is in the depths of them after being created. That is the fontanal presence.

But there can be even deeper presences. For example, the presence the Trinity has (the One and Triune God) in the depths of the soul of the just. Of course, with degrees of internal presence more or less intimate in accordance with the degree of sanctity (let us put it that way) of a particular person. Naturally, this is not {288} only an external verification. Theologians, above all the Spanish theologians of the XVI and XVII century, speculated on this problem, and indeed some said a few things that appear somewhat quaint to me. According to Vázquez the presence of God in the soul of the just is nothing more than a greater or lesser modality of the universal presence of God in the depth of all creatures1. Also, that God does not have a greater presence in Palestine, in his house, than in any other thing present in the world... This, of course, is true from a certain point of view. However, is it the only truth? We had a great Spanish Jesuit theologian that insisted on the opposite. That the presence of the Trinity in the soul of the just is of such a caliber that He would be present with that special mode in the depth of the soul of the just and the holy2. And this would be so even if God were not present in creatures by any reason due to creation. This may seem a somewhat exaggerated thesis. After all, are we going to say that the presence of God in the soul of the just has nothing to do with the fontanal presence of God in all creatures? At any rate, there have been theologians that have maintained that the one is founded on the other3. Be that as it may, it is a presence different from the fontanal one, which increases with the increase of sanctity. In that case sanctity consists in an immersion of the soul of the just in the divinity. And reciprocally, in the degree of immanent presence of the divinity in the soul of the just.

Now, let us imagine that we are rising from immanence to greater immanence, from intimacy to greater intimacy. To such an extent that this man becomes not only immersed in the reality of God who has produced it, but has really {289} been incorporated into the very generating procession by which the Word is Word in the bosom of the Holy Trinity.

In that case we encounter an exceptional situation right from the outset. This man does not belong to himself; he actually belongs to the Word who possesses the his-ownness conferred to him by the fact of being incorporated to the generating procession of the Word as such. Reciprocally, let us start from what we have expounded when dealing with the Trinity, i.e., that in God the reason for person is anterior (if you will, a conceptual anteriority) to the reason for nature in which that person is realized. And this in such a way that God (the One Triune God) is intelligent and volitional because he is his own, and not the other way around (that he may be his own because he is intelligent and volitional). Then, we must say that the human individual who is immersed in that generating procession is of such a quality that the his-owness of the Word is realized, not only in the physical infinitude in which the very divinity consists, but also in a mysterious way (here is where the mystery resides) in that finite nature of man who is intelligent and volitional. And instead of being a person because he is intelligent and volitional he is a person because his intelligence and will are immersed in the generating procession in which the Word consists. Therefore, to say on the one hand that the Word is realized in a finite nature, and to say on the other that this finite nature does not belong to itself, but belongs to the Word is to say the same thing. And precisely in this identity, from my point of view, the formal reason for the divinity of Christ consists.

Seeing how the primacy of person in reality relates to the matter of intellect and will, one can now see the distinction that Zubiri makes between the somewhat indefinite concept of "person" in previous metaphysics and Zubiri's own notion of "his-ownness." This in turn illuminates Zubiri's analysis of the Council of Constantinople's rejection of Monothelitism, followed by a nice summary of the major Christological heresies:

Furthermore, we have the right to ask, in what does that mysterious (because it is) personal unity of {258} Christ consist? In what does the formal reason for being a person consist? Here, a third step was taken, precisely when it was affirmed that to be a person consists in having will, freedom, and being responsible for one’s own acts. That was Monothelitism, if Christ is only one person it means he only has one will and one freedom.

The Church in the third Council of Constantinople (680-681) energetically reacted against this intellectual conception of the person, in Christ there are two wills (DS 549). Clearly, the Church has never defined what is the formal reason for being a person, neither in the case of Christ nor in the case of the Trinity. We must keep this in mind. And so, leaving aside the somber history of Honorius, the Church has defined against the Monothelites the existence of two wills in Christ. The question is what is the sense of this definition? It has been said, and reasonably, that the sense of this definition consists in that humanity in the hands of the Word is not a kind of Aristotelian substantial compound, with prime matter, substantial form, and some faculties. But rather that He is a man taken individually, with all his morality, and personal responsibility. That is the case of Christ, it is true, and it was necessary to affirm it.

However, was this the last sense of the definition of the Council of Constantinople? I do not think so. One may think that there is a deeper reason, which affects not only the case of Christ, but of all human realities. It is said that freedom is what constitutes the person, but that is not true. Freedom constitutes the person if and when freedom may be my own, mine, my freedom. Now, the moment of “my” is anterior to the moment of freedom. And this is what happens in the case of Christ. The freedom of Christ is a human freedom, perfectly different from the divine freedom. In the {259} “my” is precisely where the divine person of Christ is. And of this person the Church has never given a dogmatic definition. The same problem of freedom appeared when we spoke about the persons of the Trinity. To imagine that the persons of the Trinity are three persons each having their responsibility is an enormous and heretical tritheism. Here, for the opposite reasons, it would be to affirm a kind of great Docetism to think that Christ does not have a proper personal freedom that is his very own insofar as man.

In such fashion we have been present to this kind of colossal theological dialectic, which starting from the New Testament text elevates us to an apprehension a little more precise (only a little bit more) of what the divine filiation of Christ is. A filiation, which is not adoptive, but physical. A physical reality, which does not consist purely and simply in a mere dwelling, but in a true unity. In a unity, which is not a unity of nature, but a unity of person. And of a person constituted by what I have called the his-ownness (sit venia verbo), and not by the exercise of freedom.

This truly colossal dialectic, which made the Church throughout all its eras place the first four ecumenical councils in a certain way close to the Gospel, in the end it is a dialectic essentially religious. All reasons that in general have been proposed against all the errors and deviations have been much more than speculative, they have been theological. They have been religious reasons. We have seen it in the case of Docetism, if Christ had not possessed a complete humanity there would have been no redemption. We have seen it in the case of Apollinarianism, if the humanity of Christ had not possessed a complete rational soul, the human spirit would not have been redeemed. The same in the case of Adoptionism, the unique {260} and exceptional position of Christ in his divine filiation would disappear. And the conception of Nestorius and the Monophysites leads us precisely to a dissolution of what has always been understood by divine filiation in the New Testament itself, not in the theological speculation. Because, for example, if it were true, as Nestorius said, that in Christ there is nothing but the presence and total dwelling of the Word [NOTE: referring to the Antiochene view of the personal union as kata charin -- JP]in the humanity of Christ, what reason could we offer to call the Blessed Virgin “Mother of God”? Actually Nestorius himself said it; she is not mother of God, but mother of Christ. This is absolutely chimerical. If we grant a certain causality to the fiat of the Blessed Virgin in the union, in that case she is Mother of God. This of course, by communication of languages, but she is authentic Mother of God.

The reader will perhaps notice that my comments in this entry are sparse, and that is simply because Zubiri's exposition on this subject is too excellent to allow for paraphrase. The implications of Zubiri's Christology will be the subject of subsequent installments.