Ascension 2018 [From Previous Posts on the Ascension]

The Gnostic Mind: The dualism of matter and spirit. Christ is spirit  and good. He takes on matter which is evil and lives with us for a while. He dies, and ascends – shakes off the matter from Him and returns to the purity of spirit and goodness.

 

Blogger: Let me make this short: The “I” of Jesus Christ is divine. He assumes the fertilized egg of Mary of Nazareth into Himself as His own humanity. Since His Person is divine, the humanity taken from the Virgin is divinized in Him and by Him. That humanity is now “in heaven.” End of story. Ascension for us is the same process: to enter into Jesus Christ and live His Life.

The ascetical take on the Ascension is the centrality of Jesus Christ as the center and meaning of reality itself – i.e. all creation. Since there is only one Person in Christ, the divine Person; and since all free action is the action of a Person, and that Person is the divine “I” of the Logos-Son Who is total Relation to the Father, and He is the dynamizing principle of the two natures, divine and human, (that are as ontologically distinct as uncreated and created), we are dealing with the absolute center of the universe. Jesus Christ is the meaning of Heaven and Earth. (What is material creation but an extension of His Human Body. Ratzinger will explain below that “heaven” is the divine Person Himself Who acts through His created human nature. And we go to heaven when we enter into Christ. We were created in His image and likeness, Baptized into His Persona and thereby enabled to love as He loves, think as He thinks, know as He knows, work as He works. We can live a divine Life (that is total relation to the Father) as He lived it. The meaning of the human is the divinity of service to the others powered by Christ. We can live the Ascension every day.

 

Augustine: “He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the son of Man, who is in heaven.

“These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ; he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.”[1]

 Keep in mind: ”Heaven is a creation of theologians at the turn of the second millennium when confronted by the discrepancy between the testimony of Christ that “the time is now here; the kingdom of God has come.” It is not difficult to understand the hopes aroused by such a saying…. [2] Christian theology… confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But… the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history.”[3]

Ascension: 2015

Augustine: “He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the son of Man, who is in heaven.

“These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ; he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.”[1]

 

Keep in mind: ”Heaven is a creation of theologians at the turn of the second millennium when confronted by the discrepancy between the testimony of Christ that “the time is now here; the kingdom of God has come.” It is not difficult to understand the hopes aroused by such a saying…. [2] Christian theology… confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But… the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history.”[3]

From Last Year 2014:

     From the Ascension to the Second Coming, there is a wasteland of the absence of Christ who has come 2,000 years ago, and will return at the end for the final judgment. But the intermediate stage in which we are now, the so-called state of the Spirit by Joachim of Flora, is a valley of tears where we are left to our own devices of a truncated Christianity where moral life is the zenith of our achievement, at the end of which harsh Judgment [Doomsday] will come (“Dies Irae”). This state of affairs is what Francis refers to when he speaks of Christian life today, that morality cannot substitute for sanctity. This getting out of self and going to the peripheries for the others who are always poor in love besides the necessities of life has been bypassed and obliterated. In fact, it doesn’t even surface, and the case in point is economic life. There has been no call to sanctity there. To “out” this has drawn down the ire of “conservative” Christianity on Francis. And this is the reason why he persistently asks for prayer on all sides.

                Ratzinger commented: “The term adventus, the translation of the ancient Greek parousia (the arrival of the king and his ongoing and burgeoning presence), has lost its eschatological meaning… [It is obvious that] we are dealing with… a Christianity for which grace and salvation are past, and the future holds only threat and judgment.  Isn’t this shifting of the axis the real cause of the crisis in Christianity? Hasn’t  Christianity elected to make the past its preferred moment in time and so deprived itself of the future?… I have to confess that my impression is of a sensibility welling up from the late mediaeval period by which Christendom became so attached to its past that it lost hold of both present and future. In part, it must be admitted, Gospel preaching was itself responsible for this deadly development  through  a one-sided emphasis on the threat of doomsday….

                “What can we learn from all this? In the first place, the decisive consideration is still looking to our Lord. Eschatology’s meaning and driving force depend upon the power of this waiting on Christ, not on temporal expectations of the world’s end of transformation, no matter of what kind. Furthermore, though past Christian history receives very considerable emphasis, that history is invoked in the Litany as a generator of hope, and so contains a dynamism directed to the future.”[1]

                 I break off to send out a few Christmas cards. What fits in here is the entire content of the spirit of Opus Dei which is to achieve the fullness of the baptismal vocation which is to become not only “another Christ,” but “Christ Himself.” This is the universal call to holiness as announced in Chapter V of Lumen Gentium of Vatican II. Having been made in the image and likeness of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, each human person, created and sinful, has been baptized (or destined for baptism), and therefore, chosen  and called to be another Christ and a Son/Daughter of the Father. St. Josemaria Escriva received the vocation to announce and provide the formation necessary to achieve this universal call in the founding of Opus Dei. Its ground consists precisely in becoming “Ipse Christus” as the normal and ordinary denouement of imaging The Son and Baptism into Christ. Its practical achievement is neither leaving the world (which is to be loved passionately) and taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which are integral parts of “consecrated life,” but rather living out the hidden life of Christ in the exercise of ordinariy work and ordinary secular life. This is the true eschatology which fills the space between the Ascension to “the right hand of the Father” and theparousia of the Second Coming. The petition is Maranatha rather thanDies Irae. It is the time of hope that vibrates as a result of the exodus from the self to, as pope Francis says, living the mission to the peripheries. Amen. Maranatha: Come, Lord Jesus.

 

 

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 10-12,

Posted by Rev. Robert A. Connor at 2:18 PM No comments:     

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Feast of the Ascension 2014

 

Mt. 28, 16-20

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…., teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.”

 

All that I have commanded  you:” Notice: Christ says: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. But he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn. 14, 21).

 

                The fact is that two angels (“two men… in white garments”[1]) say to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven?

Then they returned to Jerusalem [“with great joy”[2]] from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem…”[3]

                The question is: why with “great joy?” Ratzinger writes: “They knew that what had occurred was not a departure; if it were, they would  hardly have experience ‘great joy.’ No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This event gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive; that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that the door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.

                “For the disciples, then, the ‘ascension’ was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rather his new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. This is why Johannine theology for practical purposes identifies the Resurrection and the return of Christ (e.g., 14, 18 ff.); with the resurrection of Jesus, by reason of which he is now with his disciples forevermore, his return has already begun.”[4]

                And therefore, the cry of the early Christians was: “Maranatha” (“Come, Lord Jesus”) and not “Dies Irae” (Woe the day that the Lord will return as Judge to this vale of tears) that began after a loss of hope in the real presence of Christ in the world – which in turn was the result of the pervasively false eschatology of Joachim of Flora that proclaimed that we are in a post-Christian time, the time of the Spirit, awaiting the Second Coming. This is given lie to by the eschatological theology of Joseph Ratzinger and the charism given to St. Josemaria Escriva on October 2, 1928.

                Ratzinger reflects on the prototype of the waning hope of Christianity in the  imprisoned John the Baptist’s sending of messengers to Christ asking the question: “Are you he who is to come or should we look for another” (Mt. 11,  3-6)?[5] And Jesus responds: “God and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind wee, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me.”

And the point: “This was probably the final task set the Baptist as he lay in prison: to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. In point of fact, we cannot see God as we see an apple tree or a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment. We can see him only becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves. In the final analysis it is usually the self that stands between us and God. We can see God only if we turn around, stop looking for him as we might look for street signs and dollar bills, and begin looking away from the visible to the invisible.”

                Notice that this exegesis demands a metaphysical anthropology of the subject which is objective reality. That is, created ontologically in the image and likeness of God, we are ontologically relational subjects. That is, as the divine Persons are pure relations and not substances in themselves (or else there would be three Gods), so also the only way John could know the divine Person of Christ is to stop paying attention to himself as transfixed on the externals of the coming Messiah (the judge with the winnowing fan in his hand separating the chaff from the grain; the one casting out this adulterous generation and, if need be raising up children of Abraham from the very stones to replace the faithless Jews), and go out of himself. The person of John as turned back on himself as the great prophet was the obstacle to recognizing Christ as the divine Messiah. Therefore, he had to go through yet another conversion himself.

                So also with the invisibility of Christ at the Ascension. Christ is not to be subjected to the objectification of our epistemology of visible image and conceptual abstraction and categorization. We will be able to know Him as He is, the pure Relation to the Father and no-substance in self, only by having Him removed from our sight and demanding the interior change that must take place in us that will make us like Him. Christ has risen, and therefore, He is present in the world at this moment. But the only way to “see” Him is to become “like” Him. That is, we must go out of ourselves “to the peripheries.”

                I think it is similar to what I anticipate Francis is doing with regard to Communion for the divorced and remarried. He is not going to change doctrine. But what is going to have to change is our understanding of what matrimony is. That is, it is a way of sanctity. It is not a mere way of morality where sex becomes “legitimate.” It is precisely the message of Escriva and Gaudium et spes #48: “The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one… the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone.”

                As posted previously, in 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that “the Council did not break with the traditional concept of marriage, but on the contrary developed it further. When, for example, it is continually pointed out that the Council substituted the broader and theologically more profound concept of covenant for the strictly legal concept of contract, one must not forget that within covenant, the element of contract is also contained and indeed placed within a broader perspective. The fact that marriage reaches well beyond the purely juridical realm into the depths of humanity and into the mystery of the divine, has always been indicated by the word ‘sacrament’ although often it has not been pondered with the same clarity which the Council gave to these aspects… In other words, it needs to be clarified whether every marriage between two baptized persons is ipso facto a sacramental marriage. In fact, the Code [of 1983] states that only a ‘valid’ marriage between baptized persons is at the same time a sacrament (cf. CIC can. 1055, 2). Faith belongs to the essence of the sacrament; what remains to be clarified is the juridical question of what evidence of the ‘absence of faith’ would have as a consequence that the sacrament does not come into being.”

                “During the meeting with clergy in the Diocese of Aosta, which took place 25 July 2005… I invited various Bishops’ Conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people’s painful plight, it must be studied further.”[6]

The Point:

                At the Ascension, Christ disappears, but He does not leave. He stays with us but is invisible. He is present in that each one becomes Him. And it is by becoming Him that we experience Him. We become Him and experience Him by going out of ourselves in the apostolate. His Word to us was “Going, teach all nations, baptizing them….” It was for this reason that the apostles returned from Mt. Olivet to Jerusalem rejoicing.

Ratzinger-Benedict XVI on the Ascension:

“What, then, is the meaning of Christ’s ‘ascension into heaven’? It expresses our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. Heaven is not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater, something that requires far more audacity to assert: Heaven means that man now has a place in God.

 The basis for this assertion is the inter-penetration of humanity and divinity in the crucified and exalted man Jesus. Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God’s abiding openness to all human beings. Thus Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven;’ heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, ‘ascension into heaven’ can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.

 

 “Only in the light of these various connections can we understand why Luke should tell us, at the end of his Gospel, that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’ (Lk. 24, 52). They knew that what had occurred was not a departure; if it were, they would hardly have experienced ‘great joy.’ No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This even gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive; that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that he door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.

 

 “For the disciples, then, the ‘ascension’ was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rather his new, definitive and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. This is why Johannine theology for practical purposes identifies the Resurrection and the return of Christ (e.g., 14, 18 ff.); with the resurrection of Jesus, by reason of which he is now with his disciples forevermore, his return has already begun.

 

 “That Luke did not have an essentially different understanding of the situation is again clear from today’s reading. In it Christ rebuffs the disciples’ question about the restoration of the Kingdom and instead tells them that they will receive the Holy Spirit and be his, Jesus,’ witnesses to the ends of the earth. Therefore, they are not to remain staring into the future or to wait broodingly for the time of his return. No, they are to realize that he is ceaselessly present and even that he desires to become ever more present through their activity, inasmuch as the gift of the Spirit and the commission to bear witness, preach, and be missionaries are the way in which he is now already present. The proclamation of the Good News everywhere in the world is – we may say on the basis of this passage – the way in which, during the period between the Resurrection and the second coming, the Lord gives expression to his royal rule over all the world, as he exercises his lordship in the humble form of the word.

 

 “Christ exercises his power through the powerlessness of the word by which he calls human beings to faith. This fact reminds us once again of the image of the cloud, in which the hiddenness and the nearness of the Lord are combined in a unique way. John the Evangelist has conveyed this fusion in an even more drastic manner by the new meaning he has poured into the Old Testament term ‘raise up’ or ‘exalt.’ This word, which had hitherto expressed only the idea of elevation to royal dignity, also refers in John to the crucifixion in which Christ is ‘lifted up’ from the earth. For John, then, the mystery of Good Friday, of Easter, and of Christ’s Ascension form but a single mystery. The cross has a second, mysterious dimension: it is the royal throne from which Christ exercises his kingship and draws the human race to himself and into his wide-open arms (cf. Jn. 3, 14; 8, 28; 12, 32-33). Christ’s royal throne is the cross; his exaltation takes the form of what seems to the outsider the extreme of disgrace and humiliation….” (J. Ratzinger “Dogma and Preaching” Franciscan Herald Press [1985] 62-64).

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Ascension into Heaven: Overcoming the Atheism of the Gnostic Mind

The feast of the Ascension is a reef on which the Gnostic mind runs aground. The Gnostic mind is rationalist and boasts of being theist and realist, but is neither. It induces to the existence of God scientifically from the experience of sensible things, but it is not the Judeo-Christian God. As Robert Sokolowski writes: “No matter how Aristotle’s god is to be described, as the prime mover or as the self-thinking thought, he is part of the world, and it is obviously necessary that there be other things besides him, whether he is aware of them or not. The experience is mediated by perceptions and concepts and not of the “thing-itself.” The realism of phenomenology is that “Man’ experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”[4]

The Gnostic god is spiritual as immaterial, and matter is bad. In this regard, Romano Guardini wrote of the explosiveness of the Word-made flesh: “Who is God? The supreme spirit, and so pure, that the angels by contrast are ‘flesh’! He is the Endless, Omnipotent, Eternal, All-inclusive One in the simplicity of his pure reality. The Unchanging One, living in himself, sufficient unto himself. What possible use could he have for a human a body in heaven? The Incarnation is already incomprehensible enough; if we accept it as an act of unfathomable love, this life and death, isn’t that sufficient? Why must we also believe that this piece of creation is assimilated into the eternity of God’s existence? What for? A bit of earthliness lost and caught up into the tremendousness of eternity? Why doesn’t the Logos shake the dust from him and return to the pure clarity of his free divinity?… Revelation defines such ideas as philosophy or worldly religion, to which Christian thought is by nature and definition diametrically opposed. But then what manner of God is this, with whom Resurrection, Ascension and throning on his right hand are possible? Precisely the kind of God who makes such things possible! He is the God of the Resurrection, and we must learn that it is not the Resurrection that is irreconcilable to him, but part of our thinking that is irreconcilable to the Resurrection, for it is false.”[5]

The Christ of revelation is constantly overcoming our Gnostic Pelagianism where we reduce reality to our way of thinking (which is conceptual, abstract and self-referential – due to sin): “Feel me and see for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk. 24, 39-40); “How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?” (Jn. 6, 53). Consider today that the Body of Christ (His very Person) thrones at the right hand of the Father, and that He and the Father spirate the Spirit. That is, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son with His Body: “the Son’s transfigured humanity becomes involved in the eternal spiration of the Holy Spirit, and the immediate consequence of this is that the Spirit is poured out into Christ’s mystical body on earth.”[6] That is a piece of created matter (divine Person) is involved in the generation of God Himself.

 

John Paul II and the Above as “Context” of the New Evangelization by Joyce A. Little:[7]

The Pope and the context of gender

No Pope has written more on the subject of gender than has John Paul II, and no Pope and very few theologians have done more than he to place all of those issues relating to gender within their proper context. Indeed, John Paul II’s so-called “theology of the body” is an explicit and extraordinarily original theological reordering of all of those issues within the context of the Catholic faith. Few can read his theology without having their own ideas about gender radically changed. Before examining the context in which gender is understood in today’s secularized American society, therefore, I would like first to consider what the Pope has to say about gender and, most especially, what he has to say about the context within which it must be understood.

The starting point

John Paul II points out that the <theological> significance of the human body is rooted in the Incarnation. “Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh, the body entered theology—that is, the science, the subject of which is divinity, I would say— through the main door.”[2] This significance is affirmed by Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, which reveal the Incarnation to be an irrevocable union of the divine and the human in the Person of Jesus Christ. Thus St. Paul insists that if Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:17), and that our hope as Christians lies specifically in the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23).

The context: Creation

Although the full significance of the body is given only in Christ, the Pope insists that we must return to Genesis, to “the beginning,” in order to appreciate the context within which the human body and human sexuality are properly to be understood. Genesis reveals that our imaging of God is bound up as much with our bodies as with our souls. “Let us make man in our image—and so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26-27). It is crucial that we recognize here, at the beginning, two decisive facts. First, the differentiation of human beings into male and female is the only distinction among human beings created by God and therefore expressly willed by him; and, second, this differentiation is bound up with our imaging of God. Therefore, as the Pope notes, “The theology of the body, which, right from the beginning, is bound up with the creation of man in the image of God, becomes, in a way, also the theology of sex, or rather the theology of masculinity and femininity, which has its starting point here, in the Book of Genesis.”[3]

This imaging of God is, of course, Trinitarian, as the Pope understands it, but Trinitarian in a radically different way than had heretofore been generally understood. Theologians in the past by and large missed the fact that our imaging of God in Genesis is directly linked to our creation as male and female and therefore understood it to be bound up solely with the individual human being who, to the extent that he is an individual, images the oneness of God and, to the extent that he operates on the basis of intellect, will and memory, images the plurality of the Godhead. The Pope, on the other hand, while affirming that our imaging of God entails the fact that we are beings of intellect and will, nevertheless recognizes that our imaging of the Trinity is directly related to our maleness and femaleness.

The fact that man “created as man and woman” is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a “unity of the two” in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life. (<Mulieris Dignitatem>, n. 7)

The Trinity, therefore, is the only context in which we can properly understand ourselves.

Personhood and relationality: God

The Trinity is, of course, composed of three distinct or different Persons in one substance. Most Catholics know this much, but not a great deal more. There are, however, four points about the Trinity which must be understood if we are to fathom ourselves. First, each of the Persons is a subsistent relation. The Father is the relation of paternity, the Son the relation of filiation and the Holy Spirit the relation of passive spiration—spiration because he is spirated by the Father and the Son, passive because he does not spirate himself but is spirated by them.

Second, each of the Persons is distinct and irreducible to either of the other two, because each is in himself a unique and unrepeatable relation. Fatherhood is different from Sonship, and Spiration is different from both of them. In other words, the three Persons of the Trinity are non-interchangeable. That is, the Father is defined by his paternity and cannot be the Son or the Holy Spirit. By the same token, the Son is defined by his Sonship and the Holy Spirit by his Spiration. This may seem obvious, and yet the implications are seldom recognized. To say the three Persons are non- interchangeable means that, because the Father cannot be the Son, the Father literally cannot do anything which is bound up with Sonship per se, just as the Son cannot do anything which is bound up with Fatherhood per se, and so forth. In short, there are things the Father can do that the Son and Holy Spirit cannot, things the Son can do that the Father and Holy Spirit cannot, and things the Holy Spirit can do that the Father and Son cannot. This is reflected in Scripture, for example, in the fact that the Father always begets, commands and sends the Son. It is inconceivable in the revelation as we have received it to imagine the Son begetting, commanding or sending the Father. We have to do here with three distinct, different, irreducibly singular Persons, because they are three distinct, different, irreducibly singular relations.

Third, and I cannot stress this enough, these three relations or Persons are <ordered to one another>. The Father is Person because he is the Father of the Son. He is ordered to the Son precisely insofar as he is Father. There is no question here of his having the ability to enter into whatever sort of relationship he would like to have with the Son. Each of them is related to the other in a specifically ordered way. In the same fashion, the Holy Spirit is not called Spirit because he is immaterial, but because he is spirated from and therefore ordered to the Father and the Son by virtue of that spiration. The fact that they are ordered to one another allows us to speak of the <circumincession> of the Persons, by which they exist not only in distinction from one another but also in some fashion within one another.

Fourth, within the Trinity, each of the Persons, although possessing the fullness of the divine substance and therefore enjoying the fullness of divinity, is nevertheless radically incomplete considered in himself and therefore equally radically dependent upon the other two Persons, since the full reality of the Godhead is realized only in the threeness of the communion. The Father, therefore, is God, but God is not just the Father.

Personhood and relationality: Man

Our creation in the image of God, we might therefore suppose, entails an analogous reading of person at the human level. This means, first, that just as the Persons of the Trinity are communal, not individualistic, so are we. Just as they are relational, so are we. Therefore, the individual human being, considered solely in himself, cannot be the image of God. Moreover, it is not even enough that man be male and female to image God, since male and female considered solely as male and female do not necessarily entail relationality. Once we understand, however, that the man and the woman are created as gift for one another (“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” [Gen 2:18]), it becomes apparent that the man and the woman are called to enter into a relationship with one another and to achieve within that relationship the fullness of what it means to be a male person and a female person respectively.

Not just any relationship will do, however. They are explicitly called to enter into a marital relationship. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Only in marriage does the man become husband and the woman wife, and these are the specific relations they are called as male and female to be. Moreover, only in marriage do these two relations, husband and wife, effect and bring into existence that sacramental bond which constitutes the third element in their imaging of the triune God and makes irrevocable until death their relationship to one another.

That they are sexually differentiated is crucial to their imaging of God, because they are called to image not only the plurality of Persons but also the distinction or differentiation of relations within the Godhead. The relation of husband to wife is different from that of wife to husband in a way that is analogous to the difference between, say, the relation of Father to Son and the relation of Son to Father. The relation of husband cannot be reduced to that of wife, and vice versa. By the same token, the husband and the wife, like the Persons of the Trinity, are also non-interchangeable, that is, the male cannot do those things appropriate to the relation of wife per se, just as the female cannot do those things appropriate to the relation of husband per se.

Third, and again this point cannot be stressed too much, their sexual differentiation is also crucial to the fact that they, like the Persons of the Trinity, are ordered specifically to one another, male to female and female to male. The woman is created for the man, as gift to the man, just as he is created for the woman, as gift to her. This is reflected, first, in the fact that she is specifically created to be a “helper <fit for him>” and, second, in the fact that Adam, which means “humanity,” does not become and is not referred to as male until the point at which Eve is created female. That each is ordered to the other is also apparent in the fact that only the spousal relationship of husband and wife can effect that bond which constitutes the permanence of their relationship even as it makes their relationship an image of the Trinitarian communion of love.

Fourth and finally, both the man and the woman are fully human, but at the same time each is radically dependent upon the other, since each images God not in him— or herself, but only in the “unity of the two.” Indeed, just as in the Trinity, the three Persons are persons only by virtue of the fact that they are related to one another, so analogously the male and the female are persons only by virtue of the fact that they too are related to one another. In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, “relativity toward the other constitutes the human person. The human person is the event or being of relativity.”[4] The relationality, which is to say the personhood, of the male and the female, therefore, is specifically bound up with the fact that God creates them to be gift to one another.

. . . man now emerges in the dimension of the mutual gift, the expression of which—and for that very reason the expression of his existence as a person—is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity.[5]

The nuptial meaning of the body

Here we find ourselves at the heart of what the Pope calls “the nuptial meaning” of the body. The fact that the man and the woman are created to be gift to one another is expressed in the body by virtue of its masculinity and femininity. Masculinity and femininity are two different ways of “living the body” and therefore two different ways of <giving the body>. Both the male and the female are called to give themselves totally to one another, but they are called to give themselves in sexually distinct ways which are expressions of two distinct personal modes of self-giving.

Masculinity-femininity—namely sex—is the original sign of a creative donation and of an awareness on the part of man, male-female, of a gift lived so to speak in an original way. Such is the meaning with which sex enters the theology of the body.[6]

In short, “nuptial” means the capacity to give oneself totally or to love, and the sexual differentiation of the persons, manifested and expressed in their bodies, makes it possible for each to manifest and express that love in a way which is different from but ordered to the other.

The nuptial character of the body also makes it possible for each of them to affirm the value and dignity of the other as a person willed by God for his or her own sake.[7] Each, by the total and disinterested giving of self to the other, affirms the value of the other. In fact this is <the only way> in which the value of another person can be fully affirmed. To give oneself less than totally or out of self-interest is to have some other end in mind than the full affirmation of the dignity of the other person. Therefore the Pope speaks of “that bond that exists between the dignity of the human being (man or woman) and the nuptial meaning of the body.”[8]

At the same time, this full affirmation of the value of the other person is also an expression of that person’s value as sexually different from and therefore non- interchangeable with oneself. The male, in giving himself totally to the female, affirms her value not just as a person but as a female person different from and complementary to himself, upon whom he is radically dependent precisely because of her genuine otherness and complementarity as female. And she, of course, in giving herself totally to him, affirms his value as male in the same way. To affirm the value of the other <as person>, therefore, necessarily means that one is affirming the other as a genuinely different kind of relation from oneself and therefore incapable of being reduced to oneself or to one’s own ends. It also makes possible not only that self-donation by which each fully affirms the value of the other, but also that “welcoming” or accepting of the other by which the value of each is, as it were, doubly affirmed. Thus there is in marriage something analogous to the circumincession of the divine Persons since, as the Pope points out, “the giving itself becomes accepting, and the acceptance is transformed into giving.”[9]

The sole basis for all of this is the sexual differentiation itself, since that is the only differentiation with which God has graced the human race from “the beginning.” Therefore, as the Pope points out, “Human life, by its nature, is ‘coeducative,’ and its dignity, its balance, depends, at every moment of history and at every point of geographical longitude and latitude, on ‘who’ she will be for him, and he for her.”[10] Understanding the nuptial meaning of the body is crucial to understanding ourselves, for, as the Pope concludes, the nuptial meaning of the body “is the fundamental element of human existence in the world.”[11]

Man as sacrament of God

John Paul II speaks repeatedly of the sacrament of creation and the sacrament of man. For those of us raised in the pre-Vatican Church where “sacrament” was used exclusively in reference to the seven sacraments of the Church, such language can be confusing. But early in the life of the Church the word “sacrament” was used to translate the Greek word <mysterion>, and therefore the Pope’s usage of it with reference to creation and man reflects the original breadth of its application. A sacrament, broadly speaking, is an outward or material sign which effects and makes actual that which it symbolizes. Understood this way, the word “sacrament” clearly applies to man in his creation in the image of God as an outward or material sign which makes effective in this world that love which images the communion of love that is the Trinity and which actuates the divine mystery or plan, of which creation is the first step, to unite all things in Christ to God. Man as male and female in the unity of marital love is a “primordial sacrament,” as the Pope puts it, because:

The sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted with man, as a ‘body,’ by means of his ‘visible’ masculinity and femininity. The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.[12]

This Trinitarian and therefore marital and sacramental constitution of man is the only context within which man can properly be understood, for, as the Pope has said, <Man—it is worth recalling—is of immense value in himself, but he does not have It from himself because he has received it from God, by whom he was created “in his image and likeness”> (Gen 1:26, 27). There is no adequate definition of man but this

[1] Office of Readings of the Ascension.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means To Be a Christian,” Ignatius (1965) (2006)28.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person” Introduction, D. Reidel (1959) 3.

[5] R. Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery  (1954) 412-415,

[6] Han Urs Von Balthasar, “Prayer” Ignatius (1986) 69-70.

[7] Joyce A. Little, “The New Evangelization and Gender: the Remystification of the Body,” Communio Winter 1994 Issue, 2-10.

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