I recently led a discussion of Giorgio Buccellati’s Trinity Spermatiké at St Clements Eucharistic Shrine in Boston. This is a long piece from two editions of Communio, some 60+ pages in all. A previous posting is here.
The Church As The Foundational Element In The Constitution Of Reality
The Church is proposed as the foundational element in the constitution of reality. This is no small claim. And it is the ultimate aporia [vocab: The expression of real or simulated doubt or perplexity]. the Church is the vehicle that perpetuates through time the redemptive action of Christ: through it, all humans are given the opportunity to “be with him in Paradise” (to quote the words of his last promise from the Cross). But — this is the claim proposed here — redemption means also the securing of the order of ontology, made possible because Jesus withstood the temptation to sin. (see discussion later in this post on plural “ontologies” and the secular view of being)
In the tempter’s view, the possibility that Jesus might succumb to temptation would have caused a seismic rupture such as to rent asunder (again, in his view) the very core of Trinitarian life, hence the order of being in its integrity. If so, it was by avoiding sin that Jesus saved the whole of reality from ontological collapse. In this perspective, the Church is the constitutive mechanism of this new order. In a Trinitarian dimension, it is the operational gift to the Father, by the Son through the Spirit, of a world newly immaculate (i.e., freed from the stain of sin and of ontological collapse.
Upstream of preaching the “good news” to the end of the earth (in fact, of the universe), the Church is the good news: for it is the constitutive mechanism of this new order…
Sacramentality As A Mechanism Which Is The Exclusive Vehicle Of Sanctity
It is clear to everyone that in the Eucharist we are grafted very specifically onto the Son; that in Confirmation we are enabled and vivified very specifically by the Spirit; that in Baptism, at the start of it all, our position of utter creaturely dependence acquires the character of sonship vis-à-vis, very specifically, the Father… The aporia of technology. The tool is sacralized because it is perceived as having power in itself, a power that is operative of its own accord, somehow capable of transcending limits.
A Link With Sacramentality
The material element in the sacraments is very much tied to, precisely, the material sphere; it is more than a poetic symbol. The water, the oil, the touching through the laying of hands, the articulation of one’s own conscience in words, the spousal physical interaction, and above all the bread and the wine are not sentimental images. They are carriers of a reality that cannot be conveyed otherwise.
Hence the aporia — the aporia of sacramentality: the spiritual dimension is inescapably bound with the material. It is a stumbling block, a no exit situation (the definition of aporia), even for those Christians who cannot accept such a deep level of incarnation: in this respect, the aporia of technology may indeed help us to understand their reaction as it found expression especially in the Reformation.
They see sacramentality as a form of that mechanics over which one pretends to claim control without in fact even knowing what the ultimate goal truly is. Such a realization can helpfully jerk us out of a humdrum acceptance that indeed would validate the critique.
Sacramentality asks for a startled assent to the sacrality of the material medium that is placed wholly in our human hands. This sacrality is not sacralization, in the sense that it is not our invention. It comes from the truly sacred. And yet it cannot be actualized without our participating in the many acts that make it possible. The final control is beyond us, we are wholly conditioned, but we are at the same time the sine qua non condition through which the sacrament can be effected
The Practice Of Christian Life
The practice of Christian life, at its most basic and simple, can indeed illumine the theological search for spiritual realities. The attitude towards providence is a concrete embodiment of this fact. It is in our everyday life struggle that we see, etched deeply in our experience, what, abstractly, we may call the Trinitarian dimension of trans-vectorial dynamics. (See discussion of trans-vectorial dynamics in previous post – link above)
When we can see no further than anguish allows, i.e., not far at all, we Christians instinctively sense that there is a far distance that is not distant, a dynamics that does not pivot around a fixed point, a providence, precisely, which, however darkly, bends over us without bending.
Recall Gerard Manley Hopkins here:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God . . .
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
and all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last light off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with, ah! Bright wings.
And thus gives meaning to our anguish. It is an experience which knows both that we are not stuck, statically, in a no exit situation, and yet, at the same time, that this is not a computer game where vectorial dynamics is bound to provide the eventual exit.
Therein the difference between trust and reliance on providence on the one hand and, on the other, the wishful expectation that statistics will somehow be the palliative that moves us on to a different state of mind. The Christian experience of providence is profoundly and inescapably Trinitarian.
The Concept Of Ontologies
The branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being is ontology and is referred to in the singular. The plural of the term which affirms a plurality at the core of being has become entrenched in the literature about digital systems, and it may seem at first like an innocuous lexical inaccuracy for it refers to the varieties of categorizations that make up the structure of the data. “An” ontology is the representation of a shared conceptualization of a particular domain.
From the standpoint of classical philosophy, this may be said to be simply a terminological “abuse,” not all that significant because, used in this sense, “ontology” does not refer to multiplicity within being, but rather within the phenomena. But it is more, I submit, than a mere example of a cavalier usage, or even a gross negligence, of a classical concept. It is instead indicative of a deeper intellectual posture, which I view as a reflection of the polytheistic matrix of our culture.
The concept of plural ontologies is consonant with the belief that there is no fundamental integrity to being as such. It affirms, in other words, a relativism that touches the very core of reality — it relativizes being as such. The kernel of the aporia is analogous to what we saw with regard to the relativization of the absolute. Both poles (absolute vs. relative, integrity vs. aggregation of being) are proposed as being valid at one and the same time.
Subtle though it may be, this is a form of supreme polytheism, revealing not so much ignorance of a basic tradition of thought, but, in fact the negation of its foundational meaning. By being proposed as a mere categorization system, the secular and anonymous acceptance of multiple “ontologies” debases “being” by denying its integrity, by fragmenting it into crumbs that proclaim concreteness in the name of abstraction.
The contrast with the aporia of the ecclesial ontology is enlightening, and it provides, at the same time, a close correlation of results. For ecclesial ontology, too, ties “being” to a concrete, historical dimension, by seeing it incarnate in a physical person and in the equally physical continuity he has established in time and space with the Church. But while the polytheistic ontologies crumble an abstract unity into concrete fragments, ecclesial ontology presents a coherent concrete mechanism through which concrete moments and aspects cohere into the overriding unity of ‘being.”