Dinged by the Nomenclature, “Conservative/Liberal”

Richard Rohr: “Please don’t begin with some notion of abstract being and then say, Okay, we found out through Jesus that such a being is love.”

No, Trinitarian revelation says start  with the loving  and this is the new definition of being! There is now a hidden faithfulness at the heart of the universe. Everything is now positioned to transform all of our lead into gold, the final direction of history is inevitable directed toward resurrection as Alpha  becomes Omega, as .Bonaventure and Teilhard de Chardn would put it.” (Richard Rohr “The Divine Dance” 66)


I am doing now what I should not do. I am besieged by a recurrent insight and I am failing to get deeper into my Breviary before I get lost in writing this. So,  let me write down in my waywardness what I have seen so clearly – before I get on to the more important business.

In the intellectual formation of all of us, conservatism means truth, structure, substance, principles, deductive coherence, obedience, dogma, and usually described as stiff, stogey, old, stark, brittle, unyielding, cranky… And let me return to the default idea: Truth .And liberalism connotes the new, supple, dynamic, pliable, inventive, flowing… And almost always: Love. I put this down because there is all kinds of talk right now about big changes on the occasion of Justice Kennedy stepping down and there is a sense of large attitude change.

What wells up in me is the opposite state of my head. Ever since I read Ratzinger’s theological description of person in the Trinity, The deepest part of my mental world was turned up side down. Instead of being and then action as accident grounded in it, now it is action becoming being.  When he described The Father as not the Father-individual engendering the Son, but The Father-Action engendering the Son, I immediately saw the meaning of “Being” was not to be an individual “substance” as “thing-in-itself,” but the pure Action of engendering Son. It simply disappeared as something that could inhabit the world that I could not help but assume as “real.” And yet I knew that it had to be the “really real” but not according to the way I know anything else. And I also knew that, since Christ revealed the Trinitarian Persons as Creator, then. I had to see the world differently than I see it through my eyes and conceptualize it with my mind.  I was in for a revolution.

And since divine Person is Truth, and divine person of the Father is an action-process of engendering Son, then everything I take to be true in the everyday quotidian 24/7 must have the underpinning of action-process. At the deepest level, I am out of the world of Greek forms and essences and corresponding concepts as abstractions of them. Which have been the world of “the conservative.” Conservative has been the conformity of free action with truth, and truth has been the abstraction of the essences of sensible things, which when put together and judged as conforming to the perceived sensible reality, is true. Principles and laws are taken from this theoretical knowing and is the grounding of what we understand and call the conservative world-order.

Take now the most primitive and highest order of reality to be the Trinity of (what we call “Persons”) Persons that are Actions of relation as Father, Son and Spirit that compenetrate One Another such that One cannot be without the Other[1] (No, Father, no Son; no Son, no Father) and yet they are distinct but not as Individuals.[2] And it is important now to be clear. The Son is the Word of the Father, and as such is the Revelation of the Father. The Father cannot be known – if like is known by like – by anything created. Nothing is more unlike than being and nothing, or Creator and created if Creator is the source of being. And so, “no one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.”[3] Which gets some clarification from Matt. 11, 27: “No one knows the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son reveals Him.” So we can only know the one true God by knowing the God-man, Jesus Christ.

I come up for air. My initial intent was to extol liberalism in the key that it must be extolled in. And this because I only the truth of the Truth by being “liberal,” i.e. getting out of myself, and this because God is out of Himsef. And like is known by like, and that is true because knowing is a dimension of “being” the other. If you don’t “become” the other, you don’t know him. You know about him from a distance, but that is “knowing about.” And so, this God Who is through and through relationality – which we give the word “love” – is through and through “liberal” I can only know the truth of loving by loving. And so. the deepest truth of reality is by being liberal

And while I’m at it. Consider that at the center of the created world is God Himself as Man. The center is Jesus Christ, God-man. That is consider that what you see of the world is the physical world that is an extension of the humanity of Christ. Robert Barron has written wonderfully here in his “Priority of Christ.” The keynote is Colossians 1, 15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible… he, who the first born from the dead, that in all things he may have the first place. For it has pleased God the Father that in him all his fullness should dwell, and that through him he should reconcile to himself all things…” This means that the humanity of Christ is the meaning of all material creation. And that humanity – since the settled faith of the Church is that there is one divine Person and two natures – is dynamized by the one Person of the divine Son. This means that the protagonist of every human action – from the greatest to the least, is action of the “I” of the Son. When it is recorded that Christ said, let’s go, or I will come, or whatever, it is the Creating Personality of the Second Person Who is doing this insignificant earthly action. It is divine-human, or “theandric” as they Hellenize it. And this relation of the two natures in the one divine Person, make all the conundra like divine/human, faith/reason, grace/nature resolvable in terms of person.

Let me try to flesh out these examples a bit:  1) grace/nature ceases to be an insoluble conundrum of the dogmatic text when we understand that “grace” is divine Love and “nature” is person. It is passing from a “conservative” abstraction to existential dynamic of the affirmation of persons (as the Father affirms and engenders the Son). See anywhere on this blog the posts on formation or affirmation of persons. Psychologically affirmation by another is necessary for the engendering of the “I” precisely because of the imaging of the Son by the human person. Grace/nature is not an insoluble duo unless you take them in abstraction, and then we call it insoluble and therefore a “mystery.” But it is a mystery as the Trinity is mystery yet ground of the whole theological  enterprise.

2) faith/reason: instead of both being two intellectual accidents of a substance. As a personal and relational act faith becomes personal obedience to the Word of God Who is the Person of JEsus Christ. Faith does give reason “information.” As an act of the whole self in obedience to Christ as the revelation of the Father, the intellectual content of “faith” is the very person of the believer-become Christ. The believer becomes “another Christ” because faith is a conversion of the self away from the self to become the Christ as Revelation of the Father. As the Father is totally out of Himself, so also is the Son out of Himself. The believer to know them must be out of himself or herself in order for like to be known by like.

3) Instead of an objectified, abstract (non-living) dualism of Church/State, the believer enters human society as more person than the non-believer since he must be a person, a burgeoning gift of self  both in work, in family life, in service to the society, in relation to the others. The believing person is not reducible to the individual, since the democratic society needs a deep, almost co-natural sense of giftedness and cannot survive  with a society of Adam Smith’s “enlightened self interest.” The democratic society thrives on the community of persons living supernatural live sustained by the Church. Without Christ, no person; no person, no society; no society, no democracy. The democracy of truth, law and order is based on the liberalism of Christian self-gift.


[1] “I and the Father are one” [Jn. 10, 30]

[2] “The Father is greater than I” [Jn. 14, 28]

[3] Jn. 1, 18.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s