Schmaus on Christ’s Relationship to Creatures

I’m not sure I buy all the implications Michael Schmaus (1897-1993) wants to draw from this, writing soon after Vatican II on non-Christian religions, but there’s something very true and beautiful in the thought itself:

. . .Christ, the unsurpassable and universal self-revelation of God, exists for the sake of all [people]. Thus Christ is not, as the word ‘absolute’ taken literally seems to suggest, without relationships. On the contrary, in the whole of creation he is the figure who is richest in relationships and possesses the most intimate relationships.

— Dogma, vol. 1, God and Revelation (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1968), 161

Barth on the Future Resurrection

This beautiful quote on our future resurrection as a sharing in God’s eternal life comes from late in the Church Dogmatics:

Since, then, God alone can be its future, the life of a creature after death cannot in any sense or circumstances be anything other than its life from God and for God, i.e., the life which is not its own but is given to it by God. God alone is above death and after it. He alone has immortality (I Tim. 616). If a creature is to have immortal life, i.e., the life which defies and overcomes death, which leaves it behind, which is no longer threatened by it, then in no circumstances can this be simply its autonomous continuation in life. It can be only its new life from God and with God. It can be only the eternal life which is given to it by God after the manner of His own life. Its corruptible and mortal, therefore, must as such, as that which it was between birth and death, put on the incorruptibility and immortality which are proper only to God (I Cor. 1553). Its present form is not, then, dissolved or done away with or destroyed, which would mean death, or a future without God. It is taken up into the new form which is not proper to it in its creatureliness but is given to it as that of God its Creator. The past state upon which it enters with death, and which is manifest in death, is thus taken from it by the fact that God, who was its only but true future even in its corruptibility before death and its corruption in death, is present to it in death itself. As what it was before death, it may thus be present and live eternally even after death in the power of His presence, i.e., not of itself, but in the power of the presence of God. (CD IV/3, 310-11)

In this sense, the question of the ‘mortality’ or ‘immortality’ of Adam before the fall, or of Christ’s humanity, is an abstract and meaningless question. We live only as we receive life from God, only as he upholds the universe by the Word of his power (Heb 1:3). God is the life of the creature, its “only but true future even in its corruptibility before death”. It is only as we given life and breath and everything else from God himself that we continue to live, and only ultimately as we are transformed and brought to share in God’s own life that we will one day, after the resurrection, have life forever. This resurrection life will be a “new life from God and with God. It can be only the eternal life which is given to it by God after the manner of his own life.”

Bonhoeffer on the Laws of Creation

In reflecting on the claims of Christian ethics on secular institutions, Bonhoeffer has recourse to the universal Lordship of Christ, which is grounded not only in his creation of all that is, but also in his redemption of all that is. This means that all things find their true meaning and “innate law” in obedience to Christ:

In the proclamation of the dominion of Christ over secular institutions these institutions are not made subject to an alien rule, for “he came unto his own” (John 1.11) and “by him all things consist” (Col. 1.17). [….] Under the dominion of Christ they attain to their own true character and become subject to their own innate law, which is theirs according to the manner of their creation. Nor, on the other hand, are they made subject to the arbitrary rule of a so-called autonomy which is fundamentally nothing but lawlessness, ἀνομία, and sin, but within the world which is created, love and reconciled by God in Christ they receive the place which is characteristic, proper and right for them. Thus under the dominion of Christ they receive their own law and their own liberty. (Ethics, p.323)

It is remarkable how much such a view has in common with the Dutch neo-Calvinism of a Kuyper or Dooyeweerd. All things, including, for Bonhoeffer, especially the four “mandates” of Church, family, government and labour, become properly themselves in obedience to the divine commandment contained within the proclamation of Christ. They do not become something foreign, such that they should be called a “Christian family,” “Christian government” or “Christian labour,” but simply family as it should be, government as it should be, labour as it should be and was created to be by Christ “in whom all things hang together” (Col. 1:17).

Barth on God and the Whole Person

Since I finished the dissertation, I’ve been reading chunks of Karl Barth. In Volume I, Part 2 of his 13-part Church Dogmatics, he writes at length of the subjective side of revelation, what might be called the “appropriation” of the objective side of revelation, what Christ has accomplished for us (§16). How does it look, what happens when people get involved with what Christ has done for them? Barth’s answer is simple: the Holy Spirit. And because the Holy Spirit makes us share in what Christ has done, and not something else, this sharing has a definite form: Church, sacraments, Scripture, and preaching (I/2, 249) under the “mastery” of Christ (265ff.).

In light of my dissertation topic, however, I’m particularly interested in how Barth treats how individuals relate to God. One of the questions I tackled (briefly) was whether one or more “faculties” are central to this relation. Is there a decision of the will which is central? A passionate attachment? Does our intellect drive us inevitably to God? Do we have an appetite, a desire for God? Barth gives this answer:


But the possibility given us by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the possibility of a direct confrontation of the whole man by God. Man is confronted in the totality of his own possibilities, and therefore in all possible conditions and attitudes. In revelation, the whole man is addressed and challenged, judged and pardoned by God. In view of this totality of revelation to us we must not refer the revealedness in us to some obscure or even luminous place apart from our own experience and activity. We must not refer it to a place where we can exempt ourselves from all responsibility. We must not refer it to a place which enables us to count on the fact that God or “it” believes in us, from which we are therefore onlookers both of ourselves and God. In the presence of God there is no such back room. There is only the one well-known place for our physico-psychical existence, although it does include within it many alternative possibilities. It is in this totality that our existence participates in the divine possibility, or else we have no part in it. The point is that the whole area of our possibilities is again enclosed by the divine possibility. That is what we have to reckon with if we would understand our participation in this possibility… Again, we can and must know that all our experience and activity is involved in this standing before God. But we can never say how far this or that impression is our calling, this or that discovery our awakening, this or that decision our conversion, this or that conviction our faith, this or that emotion our love, this or that expectation our hope, and this or that attitude our responsibility and justification before God. For as participators in God’s possibility, all that we see and find is simply ourselves, and all the very selfish, very human states and conditions and attitudes in which we actually find ourselves. We never can and never will comprehend how far the concretion of our situation and our attitude is the concretion of our participation in God’s possibility. (CD I/2, 267-68)

Barth is making a polemic here against various certainties we might have. We cannot claim that an experience, a feeling, a decision guarantees our right standing before God–though these things may be signs of it. Sure. But I’m more interested in the way that Barth says God’s revelation claims all of us, the whole person: all our thought, feeling, emotion, attitude, habit, memory and desires. This means, though I’m not sure if Barth says this himself, that our salvation reforms all the pieces of who we are. But I wonder if saying this means we cannot also say, as would a Kierkegaard or a Blondel, that the will or action plays a central role in our relationship to God in a way that, say, memory does not. Our relation to God certainly does not exclude these other areas, but might there not be a kind of tiered relation, where the will or desire plays a key role?

The Introduction to Lonergan’s Dissertation

(Yes, Steve Waldron, you’ve persuaded me.) In the introduction to his dissertation (PDF),* Bernard Lonergan notes the difficulties that attend a study of a historical theological question such as, say, Thomas Aquinas’ view of operative grace. The introduction is really a methodological manifesto and makes some very fine and important distinctions.

Lonergan is seeking an “a priori scheme of speculative development” (5) capable of bringing together–“synthesizing” (4)–all the data of various theological positions without doing injustice to them, misrepresenting them and forcing them into preconceived boxes. He notes the effectiveness of the a priori schema utilized by the natural sciences, which is “objective” because it is “of such generality that there can be no tendency to do violence to the data for the sake of maintaining the scheme” (4). He is looking for a something similar in intellectual history, here the history of theology: how to compare the progress of thought in different writings, and by different authors?

Lonergan identifies five stages in such a schema of speculative thought: (i) the general form of the idea in its development, (ii) the particular statements about an idea in its development, (iii) the analogous conception of supernatural ideas, (iv) the conception of natural ideas, and (v) the conclusion: identifying the idea at a particular historical moment. It seems that, on his view, this is simply an expanded version of the syllogism: (i) all people are mortal–the general form, (ii) Socrates is a person–the particular statement, and (v) therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Stages [iii] and [iv] are necessary to theology only.)

Now, this is a compelling account of theological inquiry. As he writes, “we are able to correlate statements made by different people at different times merely in virtue of the assumption that the people in question were all men [sic], all thinking, and historically inter-dependent in their thought” (6). This is, of course, the same kind of presupposition that drives the success of the natural sciences–that is, a universal one. At a certain point, Lonergan simply states, “the human mind is always the human mind” (5). By analyzing the process that governs all human inquiry in its development of ideas, Lonergan can offer theology a method comparable to the natural sciences–at least, so he claims.

These thoughts are still percolating in my mind and I’m not yet sure what to make of them. But I guess I have to offer a few initial reflections. First, Lonergan’s project has prima facie appeal, even in this early stage that will take 34 years to develop into the full-blown epistemology of Method in Theology. If he really can offer theology a method as fruitful as that of Francis Bacon, that would be an accomplishment. But second, I’ve been reading enough Kierkegaard to know that objective truth is not everything–and so, I’m eager to see how Lonergan’s notion of “decision” plays into his later schema. Finally, it is certainly quite a unique project, quite different from that undertaken by pretty well every other theologian of the twentieth century–Barth, Rahner, von Balthasar, Schillebeeckx, to name a few–even though I don’t think it would be fair to characterize these as “now” theologians responding to the problems of today, as Crowe does (The Lonergan Enterprise, p.4). Each in their own way, I believe, thought they were laying a new foundation for theology’s future. It will, however, be interesting some 200 years from now to see just who has laid out the way which bears most fruit for the Church.

* I’ve extracted the eight-page introduction, but you can find the whole 430-page dissertation here (PDF), at the Bernard Lonergan Archive, once you register for free. Should your heart so desire.

Beginning with Hans Urs von Balthasar

Todd Walatka, over at Memoria Dei, has a very helpful post on where to begin to figure out Hans Urs von Balthasar. It can be intimidating, seeing as he wrote some 85 books and over 500 articles. My favourite suggestion is Walatka’s first:  “Theology and Sanctity,” from Explorations in Theology I. A stunning essay with one of my favourite opening lines:

In the whole history of Catholic theology there is hardly anything that is less noticed, yet more deserving of notice, than the fact that, since the great period of Scholasticism, there have been few theologians who were saints. (181)

Barth’s Romans Commentary

I’m finally reading the famous commentary on Romans. Of course, there are all the sharpened descriptions of contradiction between God and humanity, stunning and blunt: “In the Resurrection the new world of the Holy Spirit touches the old world of the flesh, but touches it as a tangent touches a circle, that is, without touching it” (30). “But the activity of the community is related to the Gospel only in so far as it is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself” (36). “Precisely because the ‘No’ of God is all-embracing, it is also His ‘Yes’” (38).

What is most striking just now, having spent last week with him, is how much I feel like I’m reading a biblical commentary written by Kierkegaard. Barth quotes him on the very first page, and throughout you can almost touch the Dane, he’s so palpably present. His ideas are ubiquitous: the “Paradox” (29); “contradiction” (38); “seriousness” and the demand for “choice” (39); God in “incognito” (39); the “qualitative distinction between God and man” (39); the impossibility of “direct communion” (50); and more than any other, the absolute difference between “time and eternity” (29, 44, 47), which is the presupposition of Barth’s whole text.

Yet, there is also another strand, it seems, running through Barth’s commentary, the side that sees the rest on the other side of judgment. This may well be the kinder (less polemical, more pastoral) part of Kierkegaard: “No, he who opens his arms and invites all–ah, if all, all you who labor and are burdened, were to come to him, he would embrace them all and say: Now remain with me, for to remain with me is rest” (Practice in Christianity, 15). And Barth: “the Creator has not abandoned the creation… the faithfulness of God to [humanity] still abides” (41); and, “He is the hidden abyss; but He is also the hidden home at the beginning and end of all our journeyings” (46). Of course, Barth had been a pastor ten years when he wrote this text, so he knew well the need to be assured of God’s faithfulness, that the “Yes” will be heard on the other side of the “No.”

I’m curious how much Kierkegaard’s influence will appear through the rest of the commentary, both explicit and not so subtly hidden.