Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Zubizantine Theology: Sacrament as Event in the Life of Christ (Part 10)

We have seen that Zubiri understands grace in terms of molding Christianity (the actual life of Christ) in the souls of men in a spiritual way, incorporating them into Christ's own personal life. But we have not examined in detail the way in which this molding takes place. To explain this, Zubiri first recaps the conclusions to this point (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 first place, that to found Christianity does not consist for Christ to institute a series of precepts, of codes for a religious and moral life. For Christ to found consisted in making Christians, i.e., to mold Christianity in the souls of those surrounding him. In the second place, in that personal action of Christ, which consists in making Christians, what those actions accomplish is nothing numerically different from the very actions in which the personal life of Christ consists. The death and resurrection are precisely the two actions whose numerical identity with that which makes men Christians constitutes the very foundation of Christianity. In the third place, these actions are not actions that occur at some time, and are transitory. As historical actions, obviously, they finished at some time, but insofar as founding Christianity these actions are not transitory, but permanent. That is the third point we must cover. These actions are not transitory actions, i.e., it is not something that happened once and the consequences lasted throughout history. It could have been that way, but in fact it was not. The actions with which Christ molds Christianity in the souls of those surrounding him were actions that did not just happen once, they happen in a permanent way, at least in the sense of repetition. They repeat continuously, and do not exhaust themselves. Then, we have to answer three questions.

{341} In the first place, why are these actions permanent? In the second place, in what does their permanence consist?And in third place, how are they made permanent?

The first two questions are fundamentally Christological, in that they relate to the significance of what Christ did, while the last is a sacramental question. The first question is answered by Christ's founding of Christianity something more than objective metaphysical unity, but rather, as historical unity, a progressive making of Christians throughout history by repetition of the actions of Christ. Zubiri explains it in the following way:

Why are these actions permanent? Obviously, they might not have been. Then, we could say, they are because he wanted it so, that is the way he instituted it. True, but here now appears a juridical term with little charm, not quite able to designate that which is being named, the term “instituted”. It is not quite the case of an institution; it is something much more radical and profound. It is something that precisely consists in the permanence, in the repetition of that first foundational act of making Christians. It is not the case, therefore, purely and simply that Christ instituted the permanence or the permanent repetition of some acts of his life, but that there is an internal reason. It is a reason that strictly refers to the very structure of the foundation of Christianity. A question (I repeat once more) that from this second point of view classical theology has never investigated.

For Christ to found Christianity is not to transmit some norms (it might have been that way, but it was not), but consists in molding, in making. Of course, since Christ could not mold Christianity except on those persons who surrounded him (this is obvious), it means that if he wanted this founding action to be of the molding type it had to be repeated permanently. That is the profound reason why the actions of Christ (for example his death and resurrection) are essentially and constitutively permanent. The Christian has to make others Christian. And he has to accomplish this doing effectively what Christ did. For this reason his actions have to be permanent in repetition. The unity of Christianity is not a simply objective unity or a {342} merely specific unity. Not all men are Christians, but even if they were, the unity of men insofar as Christians is neither a specific nor an objective unity. It is a historical unity; they continue making each other Christian. It is a vital and historical unity. And precisely because of this, is the reason why the death and resurrection of Christ, with which he molded Christianity on those first beings surrounding him, have to be permanent actions if it is actually designed that Christians have to make others Christian. That this is what he wanted he clearly demonstrated as he went along precisely making Christians out of those surrounding him.

In this observation, Zubiri provides a deeper understanding than the metaphysically driven explanation of Sacraments. By that, I mean that there is a tendency to identify the Sacraments as those instruments which convey grace (putting the emphasis on the metaphysical element of grace), rather than seeing them as actions that convey grace on account of their historical use by Christ to mold Christianity in those around Him. To put it another way, it is not a question of a metaphysical character of the Sacraments given by Christ, but rather, it is being joined to Christ in which the Sacrament has its reality.

It is in this respect, I think, that Protestantism has its deepest spiritual insight. Both the Lutheran and Calvinist views of the sacraments in particular involved a radical return to the concept of sacrament as participation in Christ, reversing the trend of emphasizing the metaphysical aspects of sacraments as charism. Ultimately, the Protestant critique ends up negating the metaphysical basis of Christianity in the first place (as it seems every critical movement must necessarily do with its predecessor if limits on its criticism are not wisely placed in advance), but in terms of detecting an area in which theologians had been made tools of philosophy rather than the reverse, the Protestant insight is on target. Perhaps Zubiri's formulation provides the metaphysical framework that Protestantism lacked, but at any rate, it is useful to consider that the problem Zubiri addresses has been of no small historical significance.

The reversal of priority in the metaphysical explanation of Sacraments is clearly demonstrated in Zubiri's discussion of Baptism as the Sacrament of Initiation. In particular, Zubiri draws a distinction between the metaphysical substantivity of reality and the self-making manner of being in that reality, the I (this refers to the "openness" of the metaphysical essence or the "his-ownness" of the substantive reality in Zubiri's terminology). This is what makes the molding of Christians to Christ's life historical and experential rather than simply objective or metaphysical:

It is also regrettable that classical theology has never addressed the question of the structure of this initiation. Certainly, among the points I am going to consider there is one, the first, upon which theology has insisted, I should say not at length, but somewhat morosely. But it has done so in an isolated manner without making it the first structural moment of the action of initiation. The initiation from my point of view has four moments.

1) The first (which I have just mentioned) is precisely the incorporation to Christ. St. Paul abundantly uses the term sphragís (cf. 2 Cor 1:22; Rom 4:11; 1 Cor 9:2; Eph 1:13; 4:30; 2 Tm 2:19), which means sigilum, seal. Of course, it has several senses. The sphragís (a term also taken from the mystery religions) meant the consecration to a divinity, which conferred a certain right to ask for help and protection. It was a sign of ownership throughout Hellenism. Hence, St. Paul referred to sphragís as possession of the Holy Spirit, it means that we are sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Now, if we take the incorporation, not in the sense of the complete baptismal rite, but formally insofar as incorporation then here is precisely where the first {354} structural moment of the initiation is. If we take in baptism not only the totality by which we are sealed, but also its first moment (the incorporation as such) then this is what in a more or less pertinent way, classical theology has called charaktér, character. The concept was introduced into theology by virtue of the polemic with the Donatists in Africa. The question was what happens with those that receive baptism from the hands of a heretical or apostate minister? Donatus (and St. Cyprian followed him) thought they had to be baptized, not because baptism can be reiterated, but because he estimated it was not a true baptism. It is well known that St. Augustine reacted energetically and forcefully against Donatism. Clearly, the Donatists were wrong because (it is said) baptism produces an indelible sign. Certainly, as an indelible sign it cannot be reiterated, not only when it is received licitly, but it cannot ever be reiterated if it is received validly. This is what classical theology called character. But we must be told in what this character consists. The Council of Trent only says that there are three sacraments, which impress character in the soul (putting aside for the moment the vague meaning of the term “impression”), and that this character is indelible (cf. DS 1609). There is, however, the right and duty of posing this question. Classical theology did it, and culminated in St. Thomas estimating that character signifies the participation in the priesthood of Christ1.

Nevertheless, even not ignoring this dimension of the question, I personally consider that character is something prior and radical. It is purely and simply the fact of my incorporation to Christ. Christ is the subsisting sacredness. By virtue of baptism, {355} the first structural moment of initiation is to be a “con-sacratus”. Consecration, in this sense, is the incorporation qua incorporation, the naked incorporation. Therefore, the character consists in a belonging to Christ not extrinsic, as Durandus thought2, but intrinsic. It is not the case that one may be attached to some kind of political function, that one may be a secretary or belong to a civic order. It is an intrinsic belonging, which involves in one form or another I will not say a formal similitude, but indeed a manner of being that in some way participates of the body of Christ. In the second place, the character is not only a belonging to Christ, but is a manner of being. Not of my life, but is a manner of being, as I mentioned. And in third place, the character is a manner of being on a certain dimension, precisely in that primary and radical dimension through which the I makes itself an I, namely, through the power of the real, precisely in the form of religation. The character is the sacramentality of religation. It is the character of my being insofar as religated, not of my substantive reality. From my point of view this is what sphragís consists of, and precisely because of this it is indelible. Without doubt, grace can be acquired or lost. What cannot be lost is that religated version to Christ once it has been validly produced.

2) In the second place, besides the incorporation characterized by the sphragís, by the character, there is a second moment, which is the forgiveness of sins. It is, after all, what we pray at all Masses when at the end of that long Creed (more or less correctly translated) we say, “I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins”. Certainly, not all the sins in the life of a man are going to be {356} remitted with baptism. One can be, and unfortunately is a sinner after being baptized. But, clearly, the forgiveness par excellence, radical and primary, the liberation from the power of sin, occurs at baptism. Precisely for this reason what we call the sacrament of penance was then called by classical theology (and rightly so) poenitentia secunda. It is the second penance because the first and radical one is precisely the one of baptism. The forgiveness of sins is an intrinsic transformation of my being, of my I. Not of my reality, but indeed of my I.

3) In the third place, with this forgiveness of sins, with this intrinsic transformation, the presence of the power of God in me is produced, and with it, the very Trinitarian presence, which in that very power is proclaimed. That is what grace is. Let us not consider grace simply from the point of view of an Aristotelian category, as a kind of quality of the soul, which in some way asks for the Trinity to come. I would say it is just the opposite, the Trinity is the one who comes, who can modify me, and who actually modifies me. Its arrival is precisely what we call “grace”. That is what classical theology has called “uncreated grace”. Precisely because of this third moment we can say, strictly speaking, that Christ lives in the one that validly receives baptism as St. Paul says (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

But we ought to return to the subject of the acts of Christ in themselves and ask what it is that is peculiar about these acts that gives them this quality of being able to mold others to the life of Christ. Zubiri responds as follows:

The permanence we are discussing does not consist in a monotonous repetition of something that occurs. There is nothing less monotonous theologically than the life and actions of Christ. Actually, since these actions consist in the molding and formation of some men into Christians the repetition has a characteristic essentially and constitutively progradient1 (Sp. progrediente). That is the question. The Christian is not only made in conformity or participates in the death and resurrection of Christ at a certain moment. This making is not simply a static making. It could be interpreted that way with Aristotelian metaphysics, but that is not the case. The Christian must continue to realize these acts throughout his life, dying to the power of sin more and more, putting on Christ more and more. That is why the paliggenesía (the regeneration) {343} in which the participation in the death and resurrection of Christ consists is not something with a mere extrinsic characteristic. It consists that in us, in a progressive manner, the presence of the power of God continues as a consequence of an intrinsic presence of the very divinity.

The characteristic of permanence and repetition these have formally consists in being something progradient. It does not simply consist in having died once to sin and resurrected to another life. To live a Christian life consists in actually continuing to die ever more to the power sin, and putting on Christ more intimately each time. Consequently, the participation in these acts is ever essentially gradual. And this gradualness has an absolutely specific name, it is sanctity. From the mere fact of lacking serious guilt to the supreme forms of sanctity, there are degrees of intimacy with which man continues to realize his death to sin and his putting on Christ. They are the same actions of Christ whereby through them we put on Christ. Their characteristic of permanence precisely consists in this progradient and vital characteristic of the actions.

Again, this resonates with a Protestant notion, and particularly, with Calvin's notion of the ongoing role of baptism in the life of the Christian. Had Calvin checked the errors of his own metaphysical method of trying to reason from the actions of God to the nature of God, perhaps this would have been a useful corrective to sacramental theology. Who knows? He did not, and thus, he is remembered for overstepping the bounds of human reason rather than delineating them. Unlike Calvin's formulation, Zubiri's metaphysical explanation of Sacraments as progradient can be reconciled with what came before, despite providing a useful corrective to viewing indelible sacramental character as a static metaphysical quantity. So with these basic correctives that Zubiri applies (viz., that Sacrament is a question of one's experential I, rather than objective metaphysics, and that being experiential, it is progradient rather than static), we can turn to Zubiri's explanation of sacramental efficacy:

Obviously, these actions are performed mediately, but with a specific and distinctive characteristic, i.e., they are performed signifyingly (Sp. “signitivamente”). But then we must explain. In the first place, in what does this signifying characteristic consist? In the second place, in what does producing the action signifyingly consist insofar as producing? And in third place, how is signifyingly produced that which the actions have to produce?

a) What is meant here by “signifyingly“? Take any case, for example, the water, and symbol of purification in the case of baptism. Or take the imposition of hands for the transmission of sacerdotal powers in the sacrament of Holy Orders. They are signifying actions that actually signify something. But then, what does “signify” mean here? In the first place, signifying is something more than the merely symbolic. It is not the case of a mere symbol. The vocabulary can be more or less variable {345} as long as we understand by symbol something more than what might be understood when we are told, for example, that a flag is the symbol of a nation. It is not that, the actions with which some Christians make others Christian are much more than symbolisms. They not only symbolize something, but also produce it really and effectively.

b) In the second place, they produce it signifyingly. And that means that these actions do not produce their effect by themselves; that would be a magical interpretation of the actions. That is not the case at all. It is not symbolism or magic, but it is something that is a reality, it is a signifying. Signum facere, to make something that is a sign, and in that something, in a dynamic way, the signified is produced. To realize the actions signifyingly consists in these actions performing, with a dynamic and productive characteristic, that which they intrinsically signify.

The classical conception of sacrament in theology has only addressed this characteristic. For example, Suárez, who undoubtedly has the most complete idea, tells us, “sacramentum est signum sensibile ad sanctificationem aliquam conferendam, et veram animae sanctitatem significandam institutum” 2. The sacrament is a sensible sign instituted to confer a certain sanctity, and to signify the true sanctity of the soul. As I have just indicated, this is obviously true. But then, is this sufficient to conceptualize what we call a sacrament? From my point of view it is not sufficient. We need to explicitly present (it is not enough to say it is implicit) the three moments that constitute the essence of what we are describing. In the first place, that they are actions of Christ. In the second place, that these actions are numerically {346} identical to the actions that Christ performed in his life. And, in third place, that these actions are being repeated in a permanent way, signifyingly. Only the unity of these three moments is what, from my point of view, constitutes the very essence of a sacrament.

By explaining the effect of sacraments in terms of this union between the experential life of Christ and the experential life of the individual receiving the sacrament (his I), Zubiri can thus subvert the distinction between ex opere operato and ex opere operantis, in that as an action on the personal, experential reality, it must necessarily require an "internal and intrinsic collaboration." Thus, rather than it being the case of a subject being acted upon by a power, the action of the sacrament itself is an inherently personal experience. Consequently, it is necessary to explain sacramental efficacy not in terms of causation, but rather in terms of deiformation of the personal being by the power of God. Here, I think it is useful to invoke the similarities with the Eastern view of sacraments. Just as in the Eastern view, the Sacrament may be viewed as participation in the real divine energies, so in Zubiri's view, it involves a personal integration of the experience of the Sacrament. The power of the real is undeniable, so one cannot deny the bare fact of the experience in itself, but one may deny the incorporation of that experience into one's I (this is the self-making aspect of an open essence). Consequently, Zubiri can present his concept of sacramental efficacy in contrast with the classical view of Sacraments in terms of metaphysical causality:

What remains is the question as to how this reproduction is signifyingly produced. Classical theology has always thought that this is a problem of causality. It has always handled these questions from the point of view of the Aristotelian categories. Only two types of causality have been presented. One type was called physical; for example, those who consider themselves Thomists3 insist that the water in baptism, insofar as water, is precisely what instrumentally produces the purification of the soul. Others, for example Melchor Cano and Francisco Suárez, as I pointed out, thought that it was the case of a moral causality. They say that in these actions and through them it is Christ who produces in an intrinsic way the purification of the soul, taking the case of baptism. Obviously, the second group says the first group has a magical interpretation of the sacrament. And the first says that the second has a purely occasionalist interpretation, something rejected by the Council of Trent.

These scholastic arguments really do not matter. What seems essential to me is the radical and first problem, is it true that this is a problem of causality? Certainly, the {348} Council of Trent has said about the sacraments everything that can be said (cf. DS 1600-1613), that they contain the grace they produce, that they produce it effectively (although it does not say they are actions of Christ), etc. All this is true, but the Council of Trent never said that the sacraments were the cause of grace. The Council avoided using the term “cause” for quite an accidental reason, to leave an opening for the theology of Duns Scotus. Nevertheless, the avoidance is a fact. If the manuals of theology have repeated that it is a case of causality, only those responsible are accountable. The Council of Trent never said this. Personally, I consider this production, this ex opere operato, which by reception in faith and in conversion of heart produces the reproduction of the death and resurrection of Christ is not a problem of causality, but a problem of dominance. It is the domination of God, of the power of God, where the power of God is precisely the dominance of the real insofar as real. It is a problem of dominance. It is not purely and simply a problem of causality. And this dominance, precisely because it is a power, continues deiforming the one upon which this power is being exercised.

When some men administer a sacrament to others, these men in their actions realize the actions of Christ through which he is deiforming and configuring, in the form of his death and resurrection, those other Christians. These actions of Christ are, on the one hand, his own personal actions, and on the other, are identically the actions of his life. And in addition, he is the one who produces their molding in a mediated, but absolutely real and primary way, in the soul of Christians. In the unity of these three moments is where the radical unity of Christ as subsisting sacrament consists. As subsisting sacrament, Christ is, as I mentioned, the constitutive sacredness. In the second place, the vicissitudes {349} of the life of Christ are for him, and therefore for all the rest, signs of the will of the Father. Christ had to learn throughout all his vicissitudes what the Father wanted of him. And in third place, Christ realizes on others those same signs that make of ourselves, in our being, an alter Christus. To be a Christian is precisely to be another Christ. That is precisely the characteristic of the subsisting sacredness of Christ insofar as it continues to repeat his death and resurrection in the spirit of all others, i.e., as he continues to make others Christian.

Because of this I believe the theory of sacrament has to be built on these two supports. In the first place, the subsisting sacredness of Christ, and in second place, the dimension of dominance and power. In which, and according to which, the presence and the very figure of the passion, death, and resurrection continues to be reproduced in the being (not the reality) of all other Christians, and in each of their own personal modalities. I do not refer to the moral circumstances, which may be different, but precisely to the modes of being. After all, what Christ produces is the configuration in the death and resurrection of what my substantive being is. What is radical is the configuration.