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Reading Selections from “And Now I See”

Christian Thought
Follow Not Worship
The Imago Dei
Schopfungslus And Self-Deification
Trent: Holiness And Justice
Trent: Sin Passed On By Propagation

Understanding Translation
Repent/Metanoiete
Perceiving With A Mind Of Fear
Believe/Pisteuete

Scriptural Exegesis
Bartimaeus The Blind Man
Encounters With The Glory And Beauty Of God

Theology And Spirituality
The “Metanoetic” Function In Patristic Theology
“Theoretical” Icons Have A Saving Power
Spirituality Vs Theology

Reflections
The Metaphysics Of Whitehead
The Transcendent Beauty Of The Divine
Thomas Merton: A Physical Death And Spiritual Death
Merton And Aseitas: Etienne Gilson’s Precise Idea Of God
A Merton Epiphany: Connected-Ness To All People Through God
Encounter With The Deeply Beautiful Changes The Subject

Theologians
Hans Ur von Balthasar
Balthasar: The Form Of Christ
Balthasar: The Beautiful
Balthasar: The Psychology Of The Beautiful And Freedom
Balthasar: Godlike Freedom
Balthasar’s Imago Dei: A Capacity To Be Enraptured By Beauty
Friedrich Schleiermacher
Friedrich Schleiermacher
Schleiermacher: Religion Is Not A Mode Of Morality
Schleiermacher: An “Immediate Feeling” For God’s Reality
Schleiermacher: An Awareness Of Being In Relationship With A Power
Schleiermacher: God Has Been Discovered, Through Introspection And Intuition
Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich: Finitude In Awareness Is Anxiety

Jesus Christ
The Incarnation: Saving Us From Sin

Follow Not Worship
Now the Gospel writers agree that the Kingdom of God, the enfleshment of the divine life in human form, the Incarnation, is not something to be admired from the outside, but rather an energy in which to participate. This is, tragically, one of the most overlooked dimensions of Christian thought and experience. If we open our eyes and see the light, we too often stop at the point of admiration and worship, lost in wonder at the strange work that God has accomplished uniquely in Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus nowhere in the Gospels urges his followers to worship him, though he insistently calls them to follow him. One of the surest ways to avoid the challenge of the Incarnation, one of the most effective means of closing our eyes, is to engage in just this sort of pseudo-pious distantiation. But the Gospels want us, not outside the energy of Christ, but in it, not wondering at it, but swimming in it. In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine onto which we are grafted like branches, and he compares himself to food which we are to take into ourselves. These beautifully organic images are meant to highlight our participation in the event of the Incarnation, our concrete citizenship in the Kingdom of God. It was the great medieval mystic Meister Eckhart who commented that the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth long ago is of no interest and importance unless that same word becomes incarnate in us today.’ P.4
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Repent/Metanoiete
(In) Mark’s Gospel: “repent and believe the Good News.” The word so often and so misleadingly translated as “repent” is metanoiete. This Greek term is based upon two words, mew (beyond) andnous (mind or spirit), and thus, in its most basic form, it means something like “go beyond the mind that you have.” The English word “repent” has a moralizing overtone, suggesting a change in behavior or action, whereas Jesus’ term seems to be hinting at a change at a far more fundamental level of one’s being. Jesus urges his listeners to change their way of knowing, their way of perceiving and grasping reality, their perspective, their mode of seeing. What Jesus implies is this: the new state of affairs has arrived, the divine and human have met, but the way you customarily see is going to blind you to this novelty. In the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus expresses the same concern: “The Kingdom of God is spread out on the earth, but people do not see it. ” Minds, eyes, ears, senses, perceptions — all have to he opened up, turned around, revitalized. Metanoia, soul transformation, is Jesus’ first recommendation. P.5
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Perceiving With A Mind Of Fear
We see and know and perceive with a mind of fear rather than with a mind of trust. When we fear, we cling to who we are and what we have; when we are afraid, we see ourselves as the threatened center of a hostile universe, and thus we violently defend ourselves and lash out at potential adversaries. And fear — according to so many of the biblical authors and so many of the mystics and theologians of our tradition — is a function of living our lives at the surface level, a result of forgetting our deepest identity. At the root and ground of our being, at the “center” of who we are, there is what Christianity calls “the image and likeness of God.” This means that at the foundation of our existence, we are one with the divine power which continually creates and sustains the universe; we are held and cherished by the infinite love of God. When we rest in this center and realize its power, we know that, in an ultimate sense, we are safe, or, in more classical religious language, “saved.” And therefore we can let go of fear and begin to live in radical trust. But when we lose sight of this rootedness in God, we live exclusively on the tiny island of the ego, and lives become dominated by fear. Fear is the “original sin” of which the church fathers speak; fear is the poison that was injected into human consciousness and human society from the beginning; fear is the debilitating and life-denying element which upsets the “chemical balance” of both psyche and society.
To overcome fear is to move from the pusilla anima (the small soul) to the magna anima (the great soul). When we are dominated by our egos, we live in a very narrow space, in the angustiae (the straits) between this fear and that, between this attachment and that, But when we surrender in trust to the bearing power of God, our souls become great, roomy, expansive. We realize that we are connected to all things and to the creative energy of the whole cosmos. Interestingly, the term magna anima shares a Sanskrit root with the word mahatma, and both mean “great soul.” What Jesus calls for in metanoia is the transformation from the terrified and self-regarding small soul to the confident and soaring great soul. The seeing of the Kingdom, in short, is not for the pusillanimous but for the magnanimous. P.6
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Believe/Pisteuete
Now like the word metanoiete, the term pisteuete (believe) has been terribly misunderstood over the centuries, coming, unfortunately, to mean the dry assent to religious propositions for which there is little or no evidence. Since the Enlightenment and its altogether legitimate insistence on rational responsibility, faith, in the sense just described, has come into disrepute. It seems to be the last refuge of uncritical people, those desperate to find some assurance with regard to the ultimate things and thus willing to swallow even the most far-fetched theories and beliefs, Happily, “belief” in the biblical and traditional sense of the term has nothing to do with this truncated and irresponsible rationality. “To believe,” as Jesus uses the term, signals, not so much a way of knowing as a way of being known. To have faith is to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by the power of God, to permit the divine energy to reign at all levels of one’s being. As such, it is not primarily a matter of understanding and assenting to propositions as it is surrendering to the God who wants to become incarnate in us. In Paul Tillich’s language, “faith” is being grasped by Ultimate Concern, permitting oneself to be shaken and turned by the in-breaking God,
Hence when Jesus urges his listeners to believe, he is inviting them, not so much to adhere to a new set of propositions, but rather to let go of the dominating and fearful ego and learn once more to live in the confidence of the magna anima. He is calling them to find the new center of their lives where he finds his own, in the unconditional love of God. One of the tragic ironies of the tradition is that Jesus’ “faith,” interpreted along rationalist lines, serves only to boost up the ego, confirming it in its grasping and its fear: I have the faith, and you don’t; do I really understand the statements I claim to believe? The state of mind designed to quell the ego has been, more often than not, transformed into one more ego game. “Believing” the “Good News” has nothing to do with these games of the mind. It has everything to do with radical change of life and vision, with the simple (and dreadfully complex) process of allowing oneself to swim in the divine sea, to find the true self by letting go of the old center. P.8-9
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Bartimaeus The Blind Man
Inspired by this voice, convinced that he has discovered the pearl of great price, the Unum necessarium, Bartimaeus jumps up, throws off his cloak and comes to Jesus. In the early centuries of the church, those about to be baptized were invited to strip themselves of their clothes, symbolizing thereby their renunciation of their old way of life. In Mark’s story, the blind man prepares for inner transformation by throwing off the cloak of his old consciousness, his old pattern of desire, the lifestyle which has rendered him spiritually blind. Then, at the feet of Jesus, Bartimaeus hears the question that all of us hear in the stillness of the heart, the question which comes from the divine power within and which subtly but firmly invites us to transformation:
“What do you want me to do for you?” God beckons us, but God never compels us, Then, in one of the simplest and most poignant lines in the Scripture, Bartimaeus says, “Master, I want to see again.” Desperately in the dark, hounded by the demons of desire, caught in the narrow passage of ego-consciousness, Bardmaeus wants to see with a deeper, broader, and clearer vision. In his pain, and also in his confidence, Bartimaeus stands for all of us spiritual seekers, all who hope against hope that there might be a way to live outside the tyranny of the ego. He wants precisely what we have been exploring here: a new attitude, a new perspective, the magna anima. And Jesus’ answer to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has saved you,” is perfectly in line with the “inaugural address” which we have been analyzing. What saves the blind man is the metanoia which culminates in faith, the shift in consciousness from ego-dominance to surrender, What restores the vision of the spiritual seeker is the throwing off of the old mind and the adoption, through God’s grace, of a divine mind. Of course, the story ends with Bartimaeus, “following Jesus up the road.” It ends, in a word, with discipleship. Once the soul has been transfigured, the only path that seems appealing is the one walked by Christ, that is to say, the path of radical self-offering, self-surrender. Fired by the God-consciousness, in touch with the Divine source within us, drinking from the well of eternal life, we are inspired simply to pour ourselves out in love. P.10
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The “Metanoetic” Function In Patristic Theology
Paul and the evangelists were the first Christian “theologians,” that is, those seeking to say a logos, a word, about what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth. Their “words” are always in imitation of the Word, who is Christ himself, the embodiment of the Kingdom of God. Thus, their “theologies” are, as we have hinted, not primarily rational, philosophical investigations of the nature of God, but instead efforts in the direction of life transformation, re-presentations of the energy of the original Word. In this sense, Christian theology, in the beginning, had an unmistakably “evangelical,” missionary, practical flavor.
This “metanoetic” function is perfectly evident in the theology which grew out of the New Testament tradition and flourished in the first centuries of the church. In the patristic period, the most prominent theologians were pastors, bishops, catechists, and monks — and not what we would call “academicians.” No theologian of the early church was writing for an academic audience or to receive tenure or to be published in technical journals of theology, On the contrary, they were writing (to be sure, at a very sophisticated level) for the spiritual benefit of the people they were concretely serving. Theology was, like preaching and pastoral care, for the sake of salvation.
In this context, it is helpful to consider the example of Origen, the third-century catechist of the Christian church at Alexandria. This ingenious pastor and teacher speaks of theology as theoria. Obviously, we have derived our word “theory” from this Greek term, but we must beware of identifyng the two. For the ancient Greeks, and for Origen, theoria designated, not abstract knowing, but rather mystical vision and contemplation, the type of seeing that awakens and sustains wonder. For these ancient thinkers, one did not engage in theoria in order to satisfy the curiosity of the mind, but to assuage the deepest longings of the spirit. In his homilies, his scriptural studies, and his voluminous theological works, Origen of Alexandria offers his readers a “theoretical” vision of Jesus Christ; he holds up an icon of the Lord and hopes thereby to change the souls of his audience. P.12-13
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“Theoretical” Icons Have A Saving Power
St. Athanasius, the embattled and feisty fourth-century bishop of Alexandria, was the impassioned defender of the Christological formulas of the Council of Nicea. Against the powerful, numerically superior, and well-organized Opposition of the Arians, Athanasius proclaimed the legitimacy of the homoousjos teaching, the conviction that Jesus is “one in being” with the Father, fully divine. To safeguard this doctrine, Athanasius not only engaged in fierce theological polemics, hut he also withstood public humiliation, exile, and the constant threat of violence. When we read the account of Athanasius’s travails today, we are tempted to smile, perhaps a bit condescendingly. Why, after all, would a man go through so much simply to defend an idea, a dogma? Our confusion is the result of our profoundly truncated understanding of the nature of ideas. Athanasius did not put his life on the line for the Nicean formula simply because he thought it was a relatively adequate rational expression of Christian belief He stood contra mundum, defending Nicea ferociously because he believed that the salvation of the Christian community depended on that doctrine, To fudge the teaching, as the Arians had, was not only to misplay a theological language game, but to compromise radically the dynamics of inner transformation in the minds and hearts of believers. Like his contemporaries and like the New Testament authors, Athanasius was convinced that “theoretical” icons have a saving power only when they are painted correctly. P.13
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Spirituality Vs Theology
If one had asked Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, or Aquinas to distinguish between his technical theology and his “spirituality,” he would have been at a loss. He would probably not even have understood the question. For the great thinkers of Christianity, from the New Testament period up through the Middle Ages, the “metanoetic” quality of theology was taken for granted. But a split between what we call today “spirituality” and “theology” began to open up sometime around the beginning of the fourteenth century, that is to say, in the period just after the death of Thomas Aquinas. Theology, words about God, became increasingly a formal academic discipline, taught alongside of law and medicine in the great universities, whereas spirituality, reflection on the experience of God in one’s life, became a more or less underground concern of monks and mystics. In their effort to find intellectual respectability, theologians endeavored to conform to the more and more objective and disinterested style of the academy, thus consciously putting aside feeling, personal commitment, the focus on conversion. It is interesting to me that, according to the general consensus, Catholic theology went into decline just after this tragic rupture occurred, deteriorating into a cold and arid scholasticism, ready-made answers for technical questions unrelated to anyone’s lived experience of the faith.
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the terrible division between theology and spirituality was addressed by Catholic theologians, The thinkers associated with the controversial nouvelle theologie (the new theology) — Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others — sought to return to the biblical and patristic sources that had given form to Catholic thought. And what they saw in the Bible and in the fathers was precisely the dynamic that we have been exploring; theology, not as a lifeless game of question and answer, but as seeing, as transforming, as a catalyst for soul conversion. P15-16
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The Imago Dei
The Christian answer to these questions is contained in the doctrine of the imago Dei. There is indeed something terribly the matter with us, and there is, at the same time, something foundationally good, something “divine” at the heart of us, a power or principle that keeps us hoping and living and striving. As the weed pushes its way through the harsh cement of the city sidewalk, so the human soul grows stubbornly and almost inexplicably toward, the light.
When Jesus uttered his call for metanoia, he was assuming the presence of what our tradition has called original sin, and he was also presupposing the imago, some elemental goodness, some capacity for change and transformation. And people came to Christ, drank in his words, reveled in the provocativeness of his gestures, precisely because they felt the same tension of sin and imago Dei in themselves: they were sick, but they recognized what would make them well, Thus, the proper starting point for any healthy Christian theological anthropology is a clear sense of the togetherness of original sin and likeness unto God, for without the first, metanoia is unnecessary, and without the second, it is impossible. Thus, just as we must look at the dark face of our own sin, so we must look at the beauty that is God’s enduring presence within us. Both of these facts must he seen, accounted for, experienced if effective metanoia is to take place. We must know and, more to the point, feel in our bones, what is wrong in us; we must look it in the face and acknowledge it with uncompromising honesty. Without this “searching moral inventory,” without this journey into our own inner Hell, we will not feel the compunction to shift our way of being and seeing. And, at the same time, we must awaken to what is god-like in us, what is rich and fecund and unbroken, what is in continuity with the saving designs of God. Without this clear sense, we will fall into complacency or hopelessness and see metanoia as, at best, a cruel illusion, Yes, the pusilla anima must be acknowledged, but the magna anima must be hoped for with confidence. P.27-28
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SchopfungslustAnd Self-Deification
Legitimately at play in the garden of the Lord — tasting, mastering, enjoying — the first humans, in this very divinization of their activities, begin to wonder whether they are not the complete masters of their lives, whether they are not in a position to see and control even the deepest things. Feeling what Paul Tillich memorably called Schopfungslust (the exuberance of being a creature), they move in the direction of self-deification, becoming through their own achievements the center and ground of their lives, It is here that we see why God has forbidden the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is by no means a prohibition against knowledge per se, born, as the Enlightenment would have it, of a typically religious obscurantism, As we have seen, the pursuit of knowledge, even to the limits of human capacity, is entailed in the permission to enjoy and cultivate the garden. It is not science as such that is prohibited, but the knowledge of good and evil, that is to say, the final and unsurpassable understanding of the whole that God alone possesses. Where does the universe come from and what is its final destiny? What is the deepest meaning of my own life? Why is the cosmos, with all of its light and darkness, all of its shadings and ambiguities, all of its unresolved tensions and puzzles, organized the way it is? Where is the human race being led? What is the very essence of God?
To seek the answers to these questions, to desire to grasp with rational clarity those things that the infinite mind of God alone can see, is to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In forbidding the first humans to eat of this tree, God is teaching them that, after the full flowering of their achievements and activities, they are invited, not to be active, not to accomplish, but to surrender in trust. The story implies that we human beings can — to a remarkable extent — achieve success and joy through our efforts but that the deepest and most enduring happiness is possible only through the nonachievement of faith in a power beyond ourselves. We can, to some degree, understand who we are; what the universe is, and even who God is, but the fullness of this knowledge is, necessarily, beyond the powers of a limited soul, and thus we have access to it only through a suspension of our grasping and a deep relaxation of the spirit in trust. Action, then passivity; striving, then letting go; doing all that one can and then being carried; breathing in and then breathing out — only in this rhythm is the spirit realized. Our lives, in the end, are not about us, but about a power beyond us. Is God, strictly speaking, denying us the knowledge of good and evil? No, God is rather insisting that such knowledge comes, not through grasping but through being grasped. In fact we Christians know that the goal of the Incarnation is precisely to lure us, through Christ, into such intimacy with God that we see and know God as God is. It is not the “what” but the “how” of this knowledge that is carefully regulated in the garden. P.44-46
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Trent: Holiness And Justice
In the first paragraph of Trent’s decree on original sin, we find affirmed the view that the sin of the garden entailed a loss of “holiness and justice” and the incurring of the “wrath and displeasure of God.” Implied in the first couplet is the imbalance, the disorder that occurred because of sin. It was Origen who maintained that holiness is seeing with eyes of Christ, that is to say, knowing the world from the perspective of the divine. When the ego enthroned itself in the originating sin, when it placed itself at the center of the cosmos and thereby objectified all around it, it necessarily lost holiness, the divine perspective or take on the world. The vision of the sinner is skewed because she sees herself as an isolated individual, set apart from God and other creatures, and threatened with “invasion” from without. In the ego fortress, one appreciates oneself and one’s world as “secular,” untouched by the divine, unholy. In one of his most celebrated remarks, Paul Tillich observed that the surest sign of the perdurance of original sin is the fact that the house of worship exists alongside of the bank and the theater and the statehouse as a separate entity representing a separate realm of being. In a properly configured world, the entire “secular” realm would be “sacred,” since all things would be seen as grounded in the holiness of God’s reality. But in the perspective of the sinner, there is a sharp distinction between the holy and the profane, between super-nature and nature, since God has been sequestered as a dangerous rival, The awkward tumble out of dreaming innocence into egotism has indeed resulted in a loss of holiness or “wholeness” of vision. We now live in a universe marked by profanization and secularization, conditioned by a “divided” consciousness.
Trent also tells us that sin resulted in the loss of justice. This term is of tremendous importance in the tradition, finding particularly powerful expression in the debates surrounding the significance of the cross, Thus in St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? The theory is developed that Christ’s death on the cross reestablished the original justice that had been lost through sin, What does “justice” mean in this context, and why is such a “legalistic” word employed to describe a religious dynamic? The fathers of Trent, like Anselm and the New Testament authors, turn to this term because it is a way of designating a quality of relationship. Justice occurs when there, is right harmony or balance in a group. Thus there is “justice” in a society when the rapport between the members of that community is mutual, harmonious, and equal, and when the give-and-take between the group as a whole and its leadership is similarly balanced. There is “justice” in the soul when -the various powers and inclinations of the psyche — mind, spirit, passion — find adequate and mutually satisfying expression. Thus, in Plato’s classic definition, justice, both political and psychological, is “rendering to each his due.”
Now how has justice been lost through sin? The self-elevation of the ego has destroyed the subtle and delicate balance between the divine and the human, a harmony and justice that will be reestablished only in Christ. What was lost through the clinging of the ego is the harmony and play between two self-emptying loves. As we shall see more clearly later in this book, God is most himself when he lets go of himself in love of another, and the human being is most herself when she abandons fear and rises above the demands of the ego. Fulfillment comes in forgetting; safety comes in courting risky love; sense of self comes through ignoring self. This high-wire act of mutual trust and abandonment, this shared throwing of caution to the wind, is the “justice” that ought to exist between the divine and the human; it is the balance, the “rendering to each” that is the condition for the possibility of joy. And, if Trent is right, it is this joyful acrobatic harmony that has been spoiled by the originating sin of fearful egotism.
Now the Tridentine document also tells us that this upsetting of the balance of justice incurs the “anger and displeasure of God.” This symbol of divine anger is one that is only too easy to misconstrue in an emotive direction, as if God had been in a good frame of mind prior to sin and had then passed into a grumpy mood in the wake of sin, or as if human failure had caused the touchy and fickle God to fall into a snit. There is something more than vaguely pagan in such a reading of the divine anger: the volatile God must be appeased and mollified by some sacrifice or offering if he is to be, once again, “pleased” with us. Christians describe God as “angry” in the wake of sin because sin has so dramatically separated them from the divine source. When two people are angry, they stay away from one another; they refuse to communicate, withdrawing into separate quarters. The self-elevation of the ego results in just this kind of segregation of the divine and the human, From the illusory perspective of the regnant ego, God does indeed appear as distant and threatening, and thus the ego feels afraid of God and senses the “displeasure” of God.
This is none other than the feeling that prompted Adam and Eve to flee from the divine and to hide themselves, Obviously, this sense of God’s anger has a salvific purpose, namely, to make the sinner so uncomfortable that he is lured back into union with God, but it remains one of the terrible and disconcerting consequences of the originating sin. As we have lost holiness, or saneness of vision, so we have lost peacefulness in our rapport with the divine; we have settled into a stance of suspicion and mistrust vis-à-vis God, and what this feels like is mutual anger. Just as St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises urges the exercitant to feel the pain of his sin, so the doctrine of originating sin forces the believer to sit in the presence of the “angry” God and to sense the terrible injustice or imbalance that has settled into place. This exercise awakens the sinner, stirs her out of self-complacency and sets her on the path toward metanoia. Thus the anger of God is properly seen as the painful but necessary salve for the sick soul. P.55-58
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The Metaphysics Of Whitehead
What this aspect of the doctrine is forcing us to see is of central spiritual significance. Cosmologists and physicists remind us that every action of ours, even the tiniest movement of a finger, has implications for every other reality in the universe. There are no discrete events in a cosmos made up of things that are inextricably connected one to the other. It is wrong, they tell us, to imagine the universe as a theater in which self-contained “actors” move about and have only incidental contact with one another. Rather, the cosmos is a blur of energy fields, each “thing” but a concentration of energy whose boundaries and borders are virtually impossible to specify. All things and all events, therefore, “wash” into one another, affecting and shaping and determining one another.
This insight of the cosmologists was given sharp philosophical expression in the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, the Cambridge mathematician turned metaphysician. Critical of the naively premodern substance metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas, Whitehead proposed an ontology in line with the new cosmology, holding that the basic building blocks of the real are not the self-contained “substances” of old but rather what he called “actual entities.” These entities are not things so much as events or moments, or what Whitehead will specify as “processes of feeling.” An actual entity “prehends” or feels the universe that surrounds it, finding itself in the very act by which it encounters what is other. And this “other” is itself nothing but an actual entity involved in a similar act of feeling and prehension. The upshot of this theory is that the universe is a tightly woven web of radical interdependence, a wash of mutual feeling, sensing, and tending. Interestingly, there are links between the metaphysics of Whitehead and the mystical insight at the heart of Buddhist enlightenment, namely, the dependent coorigination of all things, the mutual coming-to-be of all realities, symbolized in the “jewel net of Indra.” P.60
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Trent: Sin Passed On By Propagation
Trent tells us that the negativity of Adam’s sin is passed on “not by imitation but by propagation.” Though this formulation was undoubtedly shaped by Augustine’s peculiar theology of sin as a sexually transmitted disease, there is something inescapably correct about Trent’s insistence that sin is carried by a process far more basic and subtle than mere imitation. Our brief look at Whitehead was meant to show that the poison of egotism creeps into our hearts and forms us long before we engage in something as conscious and self-reflective as “imitation.” It is decidedly not the case that we simply notice the sinfulness of others, find their behavior attractive, and then resolve to mimic them. It is much closer to the truth to say that sin finds us and shapes us and so largely determines the sort of behavior that we will consider attractive in the first place. Perhaps the word propagatione (by propagation) is awkward, but I wonder whether it is, in the end, not the most appropriate term, We have indeed inherited the energy of sin; it is part of our instinctual make-up; it is, almost literally, in our bodies and nervous systems. Fear, in the basic sense, is not something that is simply learned or picked up through imitation; rather it is a pattern of human existence itself.
This entire discussion of sin has taken place under the rubric of soul-doctoring, The assumption is that looking at sin has a transformative and ultimately salvific purpose. Nowhere is this soul-doctoring quality more evident than here. One of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life is to fall into the trap of auto-salvation, the conviction that one can save oneself through heroic moral effort or mystical insight or flights of theoretical knowledge. The principal problem with such a strategy, of course, is that it simply results in the strengthening of the very egotism that one is hoping to overcome. What Jesus so consistently and vehemently critiqued in the Pharisees was just this kind of presumptuousness and subtle egotism: “You are whitewashed sepulchers, all clean on the outside, but on the inside filled with dead men’s bones.” Trent’s claim that the originating sin is in us propagatione et non imitatione is meant to convict us of the impossibility of ever extricating ourselves from egotism through egotism. Sin is not simply a weakness that we can overcome but rather a condition from which we have to be saved. Again, this insight should not depress us. Au contraire, it should allow us, at an elemental psychological and spiritual level, to relax, to surrender, to let go. What happens so often in the hearts of sinners is a kind of clenching or tightening of the spirit as the mind and will strive to break out of the prison of fear. All of this stretching and straining serves only to throw the ego back on itself in a misery of failure and self-reproach. P.61-2
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The Incarnation: Saving Us From Sin
Jesus’ inaugural speech was, first and foremost, an invitation to see something that had occurred, to notice a new state of affairs. It was not, primarily, an exhortation to moral excellence or a humanistic call to ethical reform; rather, it was a summons to see what God has done in Jesus himself. As such, it was the announcement of a lightning bolt coming from outside the human condition, the intervention of a God who has arrived, not so much to teach as to save. Implicit in Jesus’ words is the assumption that human beings are stuck in the mire of sin and cannot raise themselves out of it. As we saw, Christ urges his followers, not to reform society or even to reform themselves, but rather to have “faith,” to trust in the power of the coming together of the divine and human that has taken place in him. In all of this, we see the antecedents of the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the “passivity” of the human in the presence of God’s saving grace. Without this frank acknowledgment of the sin of Adam living in all of us, we are destined to remain on the ever turning wheel of fear and egotism. The breakthrough of the Incarnation amounts to God’s stopping of that wheel, that terrible and self-defeating cycle of terror and self-reproach. Insisting upon the inescapability and universality of the predicament is an essentially important act of soul-doctoring. P.64

The Cultivation Of The Imago
An eye for the beautiful, a sense and taste for harmony and individuality, remains, for Merton, one of the clearest signs that the imago, the likeness to God, is at work, and the cultivation of this capacity in himself remains an essential element in his coming to faith. Like William James and Duns Scotus, Merton has a healthy dislike for the abstract, for the fanciful intellectual flight away from the particular. In fact he tells us that he developed an enthusiastic animosity toward Plato when he first came across the Socratic dialogues at Cambridge: “I do not know exactly why I hated Plato: but after the first ten pages of The Republic I decided that I could not stand Socrates and his friends . . . I do have a kind of congenital distaste for philosophic idealism.” This is because his vision is that of the artist who reverences this apple or this smile and revels in a very particular play of light and texture, and not that of the metaphysician who longs to gather things under the most general categories of the mind. What will bear the divine for Thomas Merton is not so much ideas hut things, events, friends, sights and sounds, the very particular forms in which the divine beauty is incarnated. P.71
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Thomas Merton And The Transcendent Beauty Of The Divine
What Merton saw in these mysterious and obscure works of art was the sacramentality that is the proper focus and raison d’être of any beautiful thing. When a beautiful object speaks beyond itself, when it effaces itself in deference to the grounding beauty of which it is a reflection, it is, paradoxically, most authentically itself and hence most beautiful. Hans Urs von Balthasar says that the slogan ars gratia artis (art for art’s sake) is invalid because it discourages the very humility and other-orientation that is essential for the proper flowering of the work of art. A great painting or sculpture or building exists, not “for its own sake,” but for the sake of the ultimate and unconditioned beauty that speaks through it. It is wonderful that Merton notices the “obscurity” and “hiddeness” of the frescoes that so moved him. These objets d’art are not in the full light of publicity, not drawing attention primarily to themselves; rather, like the great saints, they radiate the divine precisely by becoming silent and humble before God.
And in this they mimic the ultimate form of the beautiful which is Christ, the enfleshed divine. Thomas Merton comes to a living, existential knowledge of Christ for the first time through these dark and unprepossessing mosaics in the great churches of Rome: “These mosaics told me more than I had ever known of the doctrine of a God of infinite power, wisdom and love Who had yet become Man, and revealed in His Manhood the infinity of power, wisdom and love that was his Godhead.” Jesus is the physical beauty which, through its very humility and other orientation, speaks most impressively of the transcendent Beauty of the divine. Christ is the prototype of all finite expressions of the beautiful, since in him the two “natures” of limited and unlimited beauty coinhere, What Merton saw in the mosaics of Rome was a clear reflection of this Christ-like coming together of the divine and the nondivine, and it was thus that these ancient pictures moved him to a felt knowledge of the sacred. The pictures, hidden in dark corners in cavernous churches, were like the God who humbled himself, accepting our human condition even to the point of death, “Soon I was no longer visiting them [the churches] merely for the art. There was something else that attracted me: a kind of interior peace. I loved to be in these holy places.” Once again, the sacramental alchemy has worked: the Light appears in the lights, Beauty shines in the beautiful — and praise is the only possible response. P.74-75
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Thomas Merton: A Physical Death And Spiritual Death
Several months later, however, while he was on his aesthetically enlightening trip to Rome, Merton came to appreciate the religious meaning of his father’s death. His account of this breakthrough is one of the most mysterious and compelling sections of the autobiography, Merton tells us that he was in his hotel room at night when suddenly, “… it seemed to me that Father, who had now been dead more than a year, was there with me. The sense of his presence was as vivid and as real and as startling as if he had touched my arm or spoken to me.” In this flash of awareness, the young man saw into the darkness of his own soul and realized that he had to revolutionize his life. It was as though his father was speaking to him from another dimension and urging him to conversion, And in the wake of this encounter, Merton says, “I think for the first time in my whole life I really began to pray…praying out of the very roots of my life and my being, and praying to the God I had never known.” There is a fascinating play here of double limitation and double dependency. It is as though the reality of his father’s death dawned on him for the first time in this encounter, the fact that his father was really gone. And this awareness of radical finitude allowed him to see another limitation, namely, that of his own spirit -and inner life which had become corrupt and unfocused. In short, physical death (his father’s) shocked him into an awareness of spiritual death (his own), and both of these radical limitations threw him back on the God who is without limitation and beyond death (he began to pray). P.76
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Merton And Aseitas: Etienne Gilson’s Precise Idea Of God
Suspicious of platonic “ideas,” Merton prefers the earthy and sensual, and it is just such concrete experiences that he tends to present in his life story. But there was a book, an extremely dense and abstract tome of scholastic philosophy, that was to have a profound impact on Merton’s life and religious sensibility. In February of 1937, Merton found himself on Fifth Avenue in New York with “five or ten loose dollars burning a hole in his pocket.” In the window of Scribner’s bookstore he spied a volume entitled The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, by Etienne Gilson, the noted Thomist scholar. Because he had signed up for a course in medieval French literature, he bought the book, only to be horrified when, on the way home, he noticed the imprimatur and nihil obstat, the official approbation of the Catholic Church, on the frontispiece. Overcoming his native anti-Catholicism and post-Enlightenment suspicion of religion, he began to read Gilson’s presentation of some of the major themes in Christian philosophy and metaphysics. What Merton discovered astounded him. He had always assumed that Christians had a naive and vaguely superstitious notion of God, conceiving of him as a “noisy and dramatic and passionate character…a jealous, hidden being, the objectification of all their own desires and strivings and subjective ideals.” But in Gilson’s book, he found a deep and philosophically precise idea of God as that reality which simply is, as that being which alone possesses aseitas, “through-itself-ness.” God is not a thing or a being, but rather the sheer act of Being itself, that which exists by reason of itself and in whom all other things exist, that which enjoys “complete independence not only as regards everything outside but also as regards everything within Himself.” It might strike us, at first, as surprising that Merton considers this idea of divine aseity (existence originating from and having no source other than itself) as something which was to “revolutionize” his entire life. But our surprise gives way to understanding when we see that what Gilson expressed in technical philosophical language is none other than what Merton had felt and responded to in his limit experiences. His need to pray at the death-beds of his grandparents and during his mystical encounter with his father in Rome came from the same source as Gilson’s metaphysical speculations: the keen awareness that our being is a dependent being relying finally on some reality which is not dependent, which exists a se, through itself. It seem~ clear that the reason Merton responded so readily to Gilson’s Thomistic abstractions is that he had lived them first; he knew in his blood what Gilson was describing in more distant analytical language. That God is Being itself is what young Tom Merton felt when he got to his knees and prayed for his father, his grandparents, and himself, even before he had faith in any conventional sense. Gilson simply gave a precise intellectual framework for this experience of radical dependency and insufficiency.
Interestingly, in the wake of reading this book of Christian metaphysics, Merton is compelled to go to church, to acknowledge existentially the God whom he had discovered, to pray. And here we see the imago Dei with great clarity. In our very dependency and insufficiency, in our very fear and limitation, in the very threatened quality of our existence, we have within us an openness to the God who is neither dependent, nor insufficient, nor threatened. We carry about in our bodies the death of Christ, as Paul said, and in that very mortality we are oriented to the immortal source of being. When we sense how fragile and non self-explanatory we are, we are forced, by a kind of inner compulsion, to kneel, to pray, to acknowledge the divine.p.78-79
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A Merton Epiphany: Connected-Ness To All People Through God
Something happened to Merton in the ensuing decades of his monastic life, something that changed this arrogant attitude concerning himself and the “world.” He came to realize that the monk is not set apart from the benighted secular arena in an exalted spiritual realm; rather, the monk is one who is profoundly and compassionately aware of the sacrality, the sacredness, of all people and of the whole cosmos. Accordingly, his task is not to bask in his difference, but, having awakened to his own magna anima, to bring others to this consciousness, to help them to see how sacred they are.
This shift of insight, though hinted at in some of Merton’s writings in the 1950’s, came explicitly to expression only after an extraordinary experience of revelation that occurred on the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, in the center of the Louisville shopping district. Merton was standing at this busiest intersection of the city, this place that in previous years he undoubtedly would have condemned as hopelessly redolent of the “world,” when it suddenly occurred to him that he “loved all those people” who were bustling past him. They belonged to him and he to them in such a way that they could never be aliens, “even though they were total strangers.” This stunning awareness of his connected-ness to all people through God was like “waking from a dream of separateness,” the illusion that his existence was uniquely “holy.” His monastic vocation, he saw in a sort of flask of insight, was not to run from the world to cultivate a special mode of being, but rather to step back from the ordinary run of things in order to see more clearly and in a more focused way. “We [monks] take a different attitude toward these things, for we belong to God, Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it and to make a profession out of this consciousness” (emphasis added). The monk is unique, not in his being, hut in his seeing. In some ways, Merton perceived, the decades of his monastic life had effectively prepared him for the deepening of consciousness that occurred at Fourth and Walnut; his stepping away was the proper preparation for stepping back with greater insight and compassion. How wonderful it was to realize that he didn’t have to maintain the pretense of separateness, that he could revel in being, not so much a monk, but simply a member of the human race that God himself had deigned to join in Christ. “To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.” The account reaches a sort of emotional climax when Merton exclaims: “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” This, of course, is a beautiful indication of the imago Dei. Human beings are vain and stupid, violent and self-absorbed, prone to sin and subject to unspeakable sorrows, but they are, despite all of that, “shining like the sun,” filled with the radiance and claritas of the divine life. There is, in all of us, that stubborn spark that originating sin cannot finally put out. P.82-83
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Balthasar: The Form Of Christ
In his multivolumed Glory of the Lord, Balthasar sets out to analyze the beautiful as a sacramental manifestation of the divine presence. He finds this theme throughout the Scripture and in authors as diverse as Origen, Irenaeus, Augustine, Dante, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and G. K. Chesterton. All of these figures witness, in different ways, to the beautiful as a force that prompts a sort of alchemy in the soul, lifting it up, coalescing its powers, and finally focusing it on the divine source of beauty. And all agree that the ur-form of the beautiful is Christ himself, the coming-together of divinity and humanity in an aesthetically compelling and overwhelming manner, It is the form of Christ, Balthasar concludes, that most dramatically prompts the spirit to an encounter with the source of Beauty itself. P86-7
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Balthasar: The Beautiful
The beautiful — be it a rose, a strikingly handsome face, a Mozart symphony, or a Bernini statue has, says Balthasar, the character of grace or “favor.” It does not exist dully or indifferently, but rather it attests to itself, witnessing to its own perfection and attractiveness, inviting a response: “The beautiful presents a challenge to all that is mean and common. It does not stand turned in on itself but turned outward, facing all who can grasp it.”34 There is something provocative and disturbing about the truly beautiful; it cannot simply be admired blandly but must be seen and taken in, dealt with, One can grasp this arresting quality precisely in those “privileged moments and encounters, when something uniquely precious, felicitous. . . presents itself to us.” Notice how Balthasar speaks here of the beautiful “presenting” and “offering” itself to us, as a mystical guide offers us wisdom and direction. The proper response in the presence of such a vision is wonder — “that such things should exist!” — the wonder that is, according to Aristotle, the beginning of philosophy. And the graciousness of the particular object, the self-offering of the beautiful, raises the mind to an awareness of the graciousness of Being itself, the source from which all beauty is derived, When confronted by a truly beautiful “event,” one realizes that the hidden ground of all is a challenging, provocative and inviting Beauty. To express this in more explicitly and classically religious terms one could speak of revelations and Revelation: the aesthetically arresting has a self-disclosing and summoning power, a “revealing” quality, which, in turn, mediates the self-disclosing of the ground of being,
Another way to express this revealing power is to describe the “word” that comes from any beautiful object or event, “The thing of beauty ‘speaks to us’ from a region in which language operates transcendentally…Being reveals itself as the Good, the True and the Beautiful and this very fact is language at a root level,” What Balthasar means here is that beauty speaks and invites in the most elemental way and, in this very primordial speech, language, the desire to speak to others of what one has seen, is born. Language itself in other words, emerges in the wonder evoked by beauty and is sustained by the spiritual need to proselytize on its behalf. The self-disclosure of being (the Word) opens us to self-disclosure in response (words of praise and invitation). P87-88
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An Encounter With The Deeply Beautiful Changes The Subject
An encounter with the deeply beautiful what is not merely entertaining or diverting — is a meeting that concerns and shakes and changes the subject. People sometimes speak of the aesthetic experience as “enrapturing” or “transporting,” signaling that one is taken away (rapt), stolen, translated into a different realm of existence. The beautiful cannot leave us indifferent, unaffected, but rather it works its way into our bones, into the sinews of our life, indelibly marking us and setting us off. In Balthasar’s language, the one who sees the beautiful has, necessarily, been given a mission, or better, awakened to the mission the contours and gravitas of which have always been present in that person but only dimly sensed. The power of beauty sinks deeply into a soul and then bursts forth, the perceiver becoming, like the Creator God himself, diffisivum sui, self-expressive: “The spark of the bonum diffisivum sui enters into the man who is privileged to glimpse it and makes him, too, a person who is unreservedly poured out.” The one who has been grasped by the beautiful is like the woman in the Gospel who breaks open the alabaster jar at the feet of Jesus and allows the aroma of the perfume to fill the entire house: she is willing to break open her life in order to witness to what she has seen and heard. P89
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Encounters With The Glory And Beauty Of God
In light of Balthasar’s clarifications, it is fascinating to review the biblical accounts of encounters with the glory and beauty of God. In a biblical perspective, “visions” of the divine are never given for the sake of private edification or contemplation; on the contrary, there is always a commission attached to the insight. It is never the case that the “seeing” is an end in itself, as in some more straightforwardly mystical traditions. For the scriptural authors, the vision opens to mission: you have been given to see that others might see. Moses, for instance, goes up the mountain and is transported by his experience of the divine, marked so profoundly that his face and hair become radiant. But he does not stay on the mountaintop, content to bask in the glory of God; instead he Comes back down filled with the mission to set his people free. The aesthetic arrest before the burning bush (a wonderful image of the beautiful!) is succeeded by action and liberating praxis; the “mark” that Moses bears is not so much that of contemplator as liberator. And when Saul of Tarsus is turned around on the road to Damascus bathed in the light (the claritas) of God’s glory, he does not stay in rapt wonder, satisfied with the depth of his insight, Instead, he is sent into Damascus where he is given a mission to carry the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. The beautiful became a fire within him, Prompting him to a missionary life of proclamation And Simon “sees” the glory of Jesus’ messiahship (“no mere man has revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”), and is immediately given the commission to anchor and ground the community which will proclaim what he has seen: “You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my church.” Finally Isaiah has the rapturous vision of the divine glory smoke and heavenly throne and cascading angels — whereupon he hears the invitation, “Whom shall I send?” Once more, awareness is the prompt to mission.
In all of these cases, a human being is given a new identity, and a new practical purpose precisely through the mediation of the beautiful, through the rapture that comes from the radiant form. God, it seems, refuses to disclose himself without a “price,” without the ulterior motive of commissioning the visionary for service to the whole community. From God’s perspective, art is not for “art’s sake,” but for the sake of the mission. The beautiful does indeed “speak” and its word is one of invitation, even coercion. There is something nearly unavoidable, almost violently compelling about the commission: to refuse it would be tantamount to refusing the best of oneself, to ignore it would be to ignore who one was meant to be. In one of the letters of his unforgettable Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke counsels an aspiring writer that he should take up the dreadful career of the literary artist only if he senses within himself an inner necessity, a compulsion to write: “There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” He is asking his young correspondent whether the beautiful has so possessed him that his very identity, his very person, is the mission to communicate beauty. He is searching out the deepest motivations of this young man in order to discover whether he has the “vocation” to write, the summons from God that is like the coal placed on the lips of Isaiah or the fire burning uncomfortably in the bones of Jeremiah. His young friend must feel a compulsion to write that is like the compulsion of St. Paul to proclaim the Gospel: “I am ruined if I do not preach it!”
Thus the beautiful seizes a person, orients his radically toward the transcendent source of beauty and then sends him outward as a missionary. There is an expansive, propulsive, centrifugal energy to the beautiful, causing an enlargement, a broadening of the powers of the soul. If Augustine is right in defining sin as curvatus in se (turned in upon oneself), then the beautiful is a sort of antidote to sin, since by its nature it turns the spirit away from itself in ecstasy and mission. Under the influence of the claritas and concordia of the beautiful, the soul stirs out of its self-complacency and boredom, finding itself in service to what transcends it. Dante’s Satan is a perfect symbol of the soul stuck in the ice of self-absorption, so preoccupied by the sufferings of the past and present that it is incapable of even seeing the beautiful. We recall that all Satan does is weep from his six eyes. His tears, born of his frustrated egotism, blind him to the beautiful that could liberate him from his prison. P89-91
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Balthasar: The Psychology Of The Beautiful And Freedom
One of the most intriguing moves that Balthasar makes in his Theo-Drama is to connect this philosophy and psychology of the beautiful to a theology of freedom. Freedom, he feels, is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied notions in the marketplace of ideas, and the roots of this misunderstanding are in the nominalism and voluntarism of the late Middle Ages. By the end of the medieval period, thinkers began to identify freedom as a sort of absolute sovereignty, an indifference, a hovering above “yes” and “no.” Thus for voluntarists such as William of Occam or René Descartes, the divine freedom is tantamount to a sheer and even frightening arbitrariness. For Descartes, 2 + 2 could equal something other than 4 if God but willed it in his unchallenged freedom. Consciously departing from the Thomistic view that God cannot do that which contradicts the structures of being, Occam and Descartes proclaim the divine sovereignty over the laws of existence that God himself in freedom has established. This same notion of freedom as radical liberty from outside constraint shapes the overbearing and unchallenged dictatorship of a Louis XIV or Stalin: the law becomes simply that which the ruler arbitrarily determines.
What Balthasar is at pains to show is that this typically modern idea of freedom has nothing to do with the notion of freedom that held sway through the Middle Ages In authors as diverse as Augustine, Bernard, Anselm, and Aquinas, authentic freedom is tantamount, not to unrestrained indifference, but to expansiveness of spirit For these figures, to be free means to be unrestricted by the terrible “no” to being which is the essence of sin. In the words of Anselm, true freedom is not the capacity to say “yes” or “no,” but rather the capacity to say only “yes.” When one can consistently say “yes” to the full range of existence, one is liberated from the icy constraints of egotism; one is able to fly out of the cocoon of self-absorption and inhabit through mind and will the whole of reality. P92-3
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Balthasar: Godlike Freedom
Derivatively, human or finite freedom is this ecstatic embrace of one’s own subjectivity and, more importantly, of all the being that environs and determines the “I.” When we discover and affirm ourselves as an existing thing, says Balthasar, we implicitly discover and affirm the full range of being which, in a similar way, exists and calls out to us. To be freely ourselves, therefore, is not to be sovereignty alone in the universe, an isolated monad, unaffected by anything else; on the contrary, it is to be with, to exist in the presence of others. And in the ultimate sense, it is to be with the God, the Other who grounds and transcends our subjectivity, Balthasar reminds us that “this primal, secure self-possession [freedom] is not a self-intuition or grasp of one’s essence; it articulates itself only in and with the universal opening to all being, leaving itself behind to embrace the knowledge and will of others and other things, particularly in shared being.” At the heart of the Fall, as we have already seen, is an affirmation of freedom through exclusion: Adam and Eve cling to themselves out of fear, setting up a barrier that blocks them from one another, from nature, and from God. Their voluntarist “freedom,” hovering above yes and no, is a denial of the Mitsein, the “being with,” that for Balthasar is the mark of true freedom. They tried to be like God in majesty and freedom, but they completely misconstrued the nature of divine liberty and hence became mirror images, photographic negatives of the divine being.
Here again is the great irony of the Fall: attempting to make themselves into God, Adam and Eve became a pathetic parody of God, something like the tri-headed Satan of Dante; hoping to find security in self-sufficiency, they found only greater terror. What Balthasar urges on us is the lesson of the whole Scripture, namely, that Godlike freedom, authority, and sufficiency are discovered, not by setting the rest of being off as a rival, but precisely by including it, embracing it in love, reveling in its beauty: Mittsein (being with), the risky acceptance of the other in compassion, is, ironically enough, the key to the security and peace we all crave, and it is the essence, strangely enough, of true freedom. P94
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Balthasar’s Imago Dei: A Capacity To Be Enraptured By Beauty
What then, for Hans Urs von Balthasar, is the imago Dei in us sinners. What is it that links us, almost despite ourselves, to the divine source. It is, first, this curious, surprising capacity to be enraptured by beauty. Despite our sins and violence and stupidity, we can still fall into aesthetic arrest, still be taken up beyond ourselves by the simple harmony and radiance of a rose or a stained-glass window or a graceful movement. We can still be surprised out of our self-absorption by the shocking graciousness of the beautiful, And this capacity for aesthetic amazement in turn awakens our hunger for the divine ground of all beauty; it excites the wonder which is the beginning, not only of philosophy, but of theology as well. This enchantment of the heart then stirs the missionary desire to proclaim the beautiful to all the world, and in this mission, true freedom of the spirit is unleashed, The imago therefore is an eye, a vision, a sense, a hunger, an openness to wonder and a passion for freedom in love. All of these interrelated powers are alive in the soul, but they lie dormant in most of us, stilled and pinned down by the dead weight of originating sin. But when the divine beauty shines on them, they reflect back, taking on some of the quality of that light; when the divine tone is heard, there is awakened in them a vibration sympathique; when the divine water is poured on them, the seeds come to life. p95
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Friedrich Schleiermacher
Another Christian theologian deeply concerned with the issue of the imago was the nineteenth-century Protestant thinker Friedrich Schleiermacher. In his breathtaking originality and radicality, in the sheer capaciousness and discipline of his theological reflection, Schleiermacher deserves to be ranked with Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin as one of the premier systematic theologians of the Christian tradition. Schleiermacher burst on the scene in 1799 with the publication of his youthful work On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. Moving about in the sophisticated circles of Enlightenment Berlin, Schleiermacher had become convinced that religion, in the authentic sense, was in danger of extinction. On the one hand, rationalist critics were chipping away at its supernaturalist foundations, calling into question the phenomena of miracles and revelation; and on the other hand, self-appointed defenders of religion were misconstruing the essence of the spiritual by translating it into a mode of metaphysics or morals. He felt that it was incumbent upon him to address this cultured audience of both despisers and defenders in order to preserve and re-present the heart of religion for his time. In doing so, he gives rise to a much-praised and much-disputed philosophy of religion, a perspective that will prove the subject of controversy throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For our purposes, it is enormously helpful to study Schleiermacher’s conception of religion because it sheds light on the question of the “contact point” — what the Germans call the Anknüpfungspunkt – between God and human beings. This link-up between the divine and the human, this contact despite all sin, is, Schleiermacher implies, the imago that makes metanoia possible. P96-7
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Schleiermacher: Religion Is Not A Mode Of Morality
In the well-known second speech, Schleiermacher gently chides those who wish to reduce religion to either a form of knowing or a form of acting. There were, in his time, certain thinkers who maintained that religion had to do with a kind of metaphysical knowledge concerning the ultimate cause of the universe. One thinks, for instance, of the Deists who presented a rational case for the existence of a first principle of being and motion, a sort of first designer of the Newtonian machine which is the cosmos. But Schleiermacher is convinced that, however much religion has been translated into metaphysical terms over the centuries and however much final philosophical questions are related to religion, authentic piety (his word is Frommigkeit) cannot be reduced to this type of knowing. He memorably comments that “quantity of knowledge is not quantity of piety.” The deepest essence of the religious is not, finally, an act of the discursive intellect.
Others in Schleiermacher’s cultured circle argued, probably with Kant in mind, that religion is best understood as a mode of morality. But this too, for Schleiermacher, is inadequate. However much the religious attitude has been expressed in the language of morality, however much it gives rise to moral commitment, religion cannot be simply reduced to a discourse on human behavior. It has to do, he is convinced, with something more basic, more elemental, something inclusive of, yet beyond, both knowledge and behavior.

As he gropes toward the articulation of this phenomenon, he uses the language of “contemplation,” but he immediately senses the danger of an intellectualist misconstrual of the term: “This contemplation is not turned, as your knowledge of nature is, to the existence of a finite thing, combined with and opposed to another finite thing. It has not even, like your knowledge of God.. . to do with the nature of the first cause.” In other words, religious contemplation is not speculative or scientific knowledge of any particular being or combination of beings; it is not knowledge of the “supreme” reality alongside of others. Rather, “contemplation of the pious is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things in and through the infinite and of all temporal things in and through the eternal” (emphasis added). P97-8
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Schleiermacher: An “Immediate Feeling” For God’s Reality
Religious people across the ages — prophets, seers, sages, saints, ordinary believers — share, Schleiermacher thinks, this basic intuitive awareness in common all things exist in and through the power of the infinite reality, of that whole that he later calls the universum. This “consciousness,” this contemplative sense, is deeper than any explicit, reflexive grasp of the mind, It is not an intellectual act of clear vision, categorization, or analysis, not a deeper awareness of the net of finite interdependency. It is, instead, an “immediate feeling” for the reality of God as the grounding and all-enveloping power of existence.

There is something basically passive in this properly religious or pious state of soul. Whereas metaphysical knowledge is aggressively analytical and moral consciousness is “self-controlling,” piety for Schleiermacher “appears as a surrender, a submission to be moved by the whole that stands over and against man.” The religious person does not so much seek as allow himself to he found, not so much control as permit himself to be overwhelmed. In the religious context, it is the power of the universum, the influence of the infinite, that always has the upper hand, and it is the rational, manipulating consciousness that is quelled. Now this is not to imply that the religious has no impact in the realm of the scientific or the moral. On the contrary, Schleiermacher thinks that the greatest achievements of mind and heart are rooted in piety: “What can man accomplish that is worth speaking of, either in life or in art, that does not arise in his own self from the influence of this sense for the infinite?” Pious consciousness, in short, precisely as the most precious and all-pervasive form of feeling, undergirds and inspires the best of human intellectual and moral effort.

In what is perhaps the most famous line from the Speeches, Schleiermacher holds that “true religion is sense and taste for the infinite.” One can hear some of the overtones of romanticism in the choice of language: sense and taste rather than knowledge or vision. The religious attitude is a contemplative “feel,” an artistic intuition. Just as one’s “taste” in painting is difficult to articulate clearly, so one’s “taste” for the infinite is impossible to clarify or categorize rationally, since both take place at a level of soul deeper than discursive thought. Arid this feel is for the “infinite,” for the unbounded totality, for the embracing fullness, the all “on whose bosom” the pious person rests. P99-100
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Schleiermacher: An Awareness Of Being In Relationship With A Power
In every concrete act of self-possession there are two elements, active and passive. The subject knows and posits itself through its own power, and it feels the influence of another; it “causes itself” and it “allows itself to be caused.” One comes to know oneself, in short, as a play of freedom and dependence, bouncing oneself off of the myriad influences that impinge upon one I truly assert myself — but precisely in my interaction with the powers of nature, politics, and society that condition me Even in my most personal acts, I realize that I am largely marked and led by forces out of my control. Though free and self-determining to some degree, I am conditioned by the stubborn givenness of my body, my environment, my position in the web of finite things This receptive or passive dimension of self-consciousness Schleiermacher refers to as a feeling of dependence. We notice that in using the word “feeling” (Gefuhl) , Schleiermacher is not restricting himself to an emotive or purely affective interpretation To “feel” dependency is to experience in the broadest sense, through mind and heart and affect, the effect that the “other” has on oneself. It is to know, again in a rich and multivalent way, the determination of my being through powers external to the ego.

Now everything in the “world” upon which I depend is also, at the same time, something which depends upon me, something which can be conditioned by my freedom, Just as all things in the web of conditioned relations affect me, so I affect, at least in principle, all things in the web. Once more, the mutual play of freedom and dependence governs the relations of things in the finite realm. However, says Schleiermacher, amid all of the proximate dependencies that I feel, I also sense an “absolute dependency.” There is, at the very center of the consciousness, an awareness that I am in relationship with a power that I in no way control and that, in turn, utterly determines me. P100-101
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Schleiermacher: God Has Been Discovered, Through Introspection And Intuition
The “whence” of this feeling, its origin and ground, can, obviously, be no thing or collectivity of things in the realm of finitude; it must, instead, be that infinite and immeasurable reality that Schleiermacher referred to in the Speeches as the “Universum.” The energy of Being itself is the only possible “whence” of the feeling of total dependency, since only Being as such could be that which determines and causes a finite thing in every dimension of its reality.

Now Schleiermacher holds that “to feel oneself as totally dependent and to be conscious of being in relation with God are one and the same thing. As in the Speeches, God has been discovered, not through metaphysical argument or scientific demonstration, but through introspection and intuition. But the “sense and taste” for the infinite of the Speeches has been specified and rendered more pointed in the Glaubenslehre (Teaching on Faith) as the “feeling of absolute dependency.” Both are descriptions of the immediate intuition of the divine presence that can be found in human consciousness, but the second formula is more “existential” than the first, since it highlights the sensing of God precisely as the one who bears us up in our ontological insufficiency. God is felt, in accord with the Glaubenslehre formulation, as the steady ground, the rock, the anchor of our dramatically unsteady lives. In relation to any other reality in the universe, we sense our relative limitation, dependency, and neediness, but in relation to God, we feel the total dependency of our finite being, our sheer emptiness and insufficiency. God is discovered, in short, in the context of the ultimate limit experience. P101-102
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Paul Tillich: Finitude In Awareness Is Anxiety
It is only natural that when theologians of a Schleiermacherian persuasion began to do their work in a twentieth-century context they would incorporate the findings of psychoanalysis in their articulation of this “feeling” of total dependency. Such is the case with Paul Tillich. Tillich became especially convinced of the threatened quality of human existence while serving as Feldprediger (chaplain) during the First World War, Picking up the bodies of his friends, presiding at heartbreaking burial services, cowering in the trenches while the shells fell around him.

Tillich knew in his bones that human life is precarious. When he began to theologize just after the war, young Tillich sought to express the insufficiency and neediness of the human condition in terms that were, at one and the same time, psychological and ontological He tried to translate the more detached language of Schleiermacher into the engaged and vivid terminology of Kierkegaard and Freud.
Accordingly, the dependency and finitude that Schleiermacher spoke of are now described as frightening: “finitude in awareness is anxiety.” To be conscious of one’s ontological incompleteness is to be afraid, is to tremble with that vague but dreadful angst that the psychologists call, appropriately enough, “existential.”

There are several modalities of this fundamental anxiety, each proceeding from our relationship to a defining characteristic of finitude. Thus it is frightening to exist in time, since temporality signals our “being toward death,” the grim fact that we are hurtling toward dissolution and can do nothing to stop the process. Time eats away at our beauty, our power, our wealth, leaving us, in the end, with nothing. And when we become profoundly aware of this brutal truth, when our carefully constructed defenses against it are either dropped or broken through, we experience what Tillich calls the “shock of nonbeing,” the clear sense of our ontological incompleteness, our proximity to the nothing.

Similarly, we experience this shock in relation to our spatiality. All finite things dwell, necessarily, in space as well as in time. But no one’s place is ultimately secure; no one’s rootedness in space is guaranteed. A home can be destroyed by fire; a plot of land can be washed away in a flood; a homeland can be lost through political machinations or military invasion; an apartment can be taken away because one is unable to pay the rent. We all stand in some place and derive a certain security from that rootedness, but no place is finally safe, no ground is immune to earthquake. Tillich, of course, spoke from dreadful persona! experience on this score, having endured exile from his native Germany at the hands of the Nazis. Also, all finite things are caused, that is to say, they come into being through the intervention of another. Following Heidegger’s well-known analysis in Being and Time, Tillich reminds us that we are “thrown” into existence, emerging into the light without being consulted, and that we will one day be “thrown” out of existence, once more without being asked. There is a terrible precariousness to our lives precisely because we are not our own causes, our own ground. Since we come into being through another, we are beholden to forces that surround us, compelled to exist according to them, Thus the fact of causality signals our radical nonbeing and hence frightens us.

Finally, all finite realities, for Tillich, are substances, that is to say, particular things, existents, but, as Aristotle taught long ago, substances are susceptible to substantial change, i.e., a complete destruction, a radical loss of form. Thus a chair can be burned to ashes, and a living human being can be transformed into a corpse, a collection of chemicals. In short, substances, by their very nature, are, curiously, “insubstantial.” When this fact enters into consciousness, we become painfully aware of how “unnecessary” we are, how fleeting and finally inconsequential is our being, how possible and thinkable is our nonexistence. P102-4
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