With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Some Thoughts On Anthropology

One of the most important elements of a good Christology is a good anthropology. Jesus is fully God and fully man. When one’s anthropology is bad, one’s understanding of Jesus in accordance to his humanity will certainly be in error. We live in a time where a critical-historical approach to the New Testament and the Gospels has helped inspire new, but rather, low Christologies. Jesus is made to be seen as another human like us. Scholars such as Crossan, Funk, Marxsen, and Schillebeeckx suggest considerable doubt as to what Jesus could or could not have done, what he could or could not have known, based upon their own experience of what it means to be human. They turn their human experience as being the model in which to read the humanity of Jesus.

While there is merit to this, sadly, it has many limitations –our current understanding of what it means to be human suggests many limitations for Jesus as well. Thus, following this methodology, Roger Haight says, “The subject Jesus, the person, was ignorant, weak, vulnerable to suffering, and did not in the least appear to be Yahweh or the Father or God,” Roger Haight, Jesus, Symbol of God (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2002), 292. For Haight, this leads him to having a difficulty in finding a proper understanding of the divinity of Jesus; Jesus is read as being just like us, therefore he believes that the discussions about the divinity of Christ in the early Christian creeds really meant to merely suggest that Jesus had a special experience of God, “Second, God’s presence to Jesus must be regarded as a presence within his humanity. By this I mean that the divine in Jesus does not appear over and above Jesus’ being a human being, but rather precisely within the way Jesus was human, the way he lived and taught. […] Once again, he was a human being, and one must begin to understand the presence of God to him and within him beginning with this premise of integral human existence. In terms of the theory of symbol, the finite, created integrity of human existence must be preserved in Jesus.” Roger Haight, Jesus, Symbol of God , 293. If this is truly the case, it becomes difficult for us to understand what it means for Jesus to be the only begotten Son of God. His Jesus is not a divine person, but resembles a Nestorian Christ, where the humanity experiences the closeness of the divinity, but not the realization of that divinity as being the same person as Jesus.

The problem is not with a historical-critical reading of the Gospels. As Wolfhart Pannenberg points out, the way we understand Jesus has to include the records we have of his life (the Gospels and early Christian witnesses of Christ we have in the New Testament), and these records should be sufficient to point out to us who and what he is. “If the human history of Jesus is the revelation of his eternal sonship, we must be able to perceive the latter in the reality of the human life.” Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. Volume 2. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 325. The real issue is the fact that most anthropologies being used by those engaging in the historical-critical methodology are wrong, containing significant problematic presumptions which lead to great hermeneutical difficulties. They have a low understanding of the potential of humanity, and thus read this low potential back into Jesus.

What are the problems I mean? There are far too many to relate, but fundamentally, I would suggest that the first and probably greatest problem lies in the prototype used to determine who and want represents humanity. While there is considerable sense in using our own experience as the way to declare what it means to be human, Christian anthropology tells us that the real prototype is not ourselves, but Jesus, and secondly, the reason why we should not use ourselves as the prototype lies in the fact that our own human experience is the experience of an imperfect, crippled existence which does not fully manifest what it is we are intended to be.

“When wealth is hidden, one is ignorant of it
and therefore does not obtain the treasure.”
Buddha Nature. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra. Trans. Rosemarie Fuchs (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2000), 38.

The wealth is what it means to be human, it is hidden because of our defiled existence, defiled by sin, and therefore if we use this defiled existence as the way to read what it means to be human, we shall never achieve the goal; it will forever be outside of our grasp.

Imagine a land where, once upon a time, some malevolent dictator who, due to some genetic problem, is born without legs, and had the legs of everyone living within his kingdom broken, and incapable of being healed. People were crippled and could not stand up. Imagine if he spread this genetic mutation to his children, and it continues on throughout the rest of the dynasty. Not only were the legs of the people living under the first generation of this new dynasty broken, but state policy makes this a law required to be put into effect for countless generations, and all the children born into this society have their legs entirely mutilated. Eventually, the very understanding of what it means to stand up is lost, and in this society, humanity and its very existence is seen only in this crippled state. Imagine, when you get to the fourth or fifth generation of such a society, and they read stories about people standing up. Since they have never experienced it for themselves, nor could do it if they tried, they believe these stories must be the pure fanciful wishes of previous generations. Anyone who lived in the past, they believe, must be like they are now; and anything which suggests otherwise must be interpreted mythically or allegorically as representing an innate, but deluded, desire of humanity. This is exactly how Jesus is being read in relation to us. When we are used to model what it means to be human, instead of Jesus the author of the new, restored humanity (cf. I Cor. 15:21 -22), Jesus is read to have our own foibles instead of us as being deficient and needing to be healed from them.

One of the significant debates of 20th century theology was the debate over the so-called “pure nature” having its own “natural beatitude.” Is there a pure humanity which can exist on its own without being open to a relationship with the divine, or is the idea of a pure, closed humanity entirely a theoretical fiction? It would seem that many who argue for a low understanding of the person of Jesus, and suggest that he was a rather feeble, ignorant human man, fall along the lines of the “pure nature.” They create a closed human nature incapable of enlightenment, incapable of being penetrated by the divine life. Henri de Lubac rightfully suggests this idea is fundamentally non-Christian, and at the heart of a Christian theology of grace is the idea that humanity was created to be open to and fulfilled by the gratuitous graciousness of God. “Under different forms, and with accentuations varying from one century and school to another, Christian philosophy thus developed the concept of a human nature which is open to receive a supernatural gift” Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural. Trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998), 119. Indeed, if we try to bracket humanity by itself and suggest a humanity entirely by itself, capable of being on its own without God, happy and blessed, and then consider in relation to this the possibility of a humanity which can exist with God and supernaturally lifted up by God to an even greater existence, the end result is a dichotomy which not only destroys who and what we are, but who and what God is as well. “Then there is the hypothesis that seeks to posit a “purely natural” universe, in which man could claim “natural” happiness from God. Now alongside this another universe is imagined – our own in fact – in which man still requires happiness from God, this time “supernatural.” Whether we add the two together or set them against each other, we can hardly hope to find in them the gratuitousness we are looking for.” Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural. 62. Indeed, Lubac points out in many of his writings that the result of this notion (whatever good reasons there were in originally suggesting it) is a separation of humanity from God which seeks to show how God is not needed and ends up a practical if not an entirely philosophical atheism.

Thus, the debate over how to read what it means to be human, when it is a debate which excludes the evidence we have from the life of Christ and the Christian experience, just ends up re-establishing the concept of a pure, closed human nature. Following Lubac’s analysis of what such a pure nature would suggest, it is not surprising that this hermeneutic is one which atheists use to deconstruct the Gospel narratives, trying to show how the “Jesus of faith” was a creation of the Evangelists. Perhaps they do not realize that the results they suggest are one and the same with the presumptions they took with the text itself: what they offer is entirely circular reasoning.

So, we need to have a different anthropological understanding of what it means to be human, and we must use Jesus in his humanity as the ideal. What he does as man must be seen as something all humanity can and should be capable of doing. He himself said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). Many debates on what Christ could or could not do, could or could not know, would be answered if we took this approach.

So what does this mean specifically? What does Jesus tell us about humanity that we could not have known without his example? If we believe those who hold a low Christology, the answer would be nothing. However, this cannot be, and indeed is not the case. Instead of being closed off as a reality unto itself, humanity must be in its very nature open to the gracious penetration of the divinity with itself – its potential must not be that of a weak cripple but of a great, potentially infinite and deified, life. “What then is the ground of the Incarnation? Is it an act of divine omnipotence, comparable to the creation of the world ex nihilo? Or does not the fact of the Incarnation itself suppose the presence in human nature of some inalienable characteristic which makes the possibility of the Incarnation comprehensible, not as the invasion of human nature by some deus ex machine, but, on the contrary, as the complete unfolding of it possibilities?” Sergius Bulgakov. Sophia: The Wisdom of God. An Outline of Sophiology. Trans. Rev. Patrick Thompson, Rev. O. Fielding Clarke and Xenia Braikevitc. (Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, 1993), 83.

Thus Jesus shows us that what it means to be human is to be greater than what we are now; indeed, one religious philosopher has suggested this is what it means to be human. “We can express this in the paradox that man always wants to be something greater and other than what he is; and since this wanting is his very essence, we can say that the distinctive character of man consists precisely in the fact that he is greater than what he is. Man is a self-overcoming, self-transforming being.” S.L. Frank The Spiritual Foundations of Society. Trans Boris Jakim (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1987), 84. S.L. Frank suggests this can be understood by the moral dimension of humanity: that we can look beyond the empirical life and judge it suggests we are capable of transcending those empirical limitation, “Man alone has the ability to transcend himself, to free himself ideally from his empirical nature, and, rising above it, to judge and evaluate it,” ibid. While one might disagree with him on whether or not this is true of man alone, the point is well taken – we do transcend our empirical given self, and so we do transform ourselves into something greater, showing that we are not closed in to what we are given in our origin but we must be seen as reaching out to something greater, becoming this greater thing. In the end, this can only be true because humanity in its pureness is open to the divine, and lives in accordance to how much the divine has penetrated into it. “Man is man precisely because he is more than an empirical natural being; man is characterized precisely by his superhuman, divine-human nature.” ibid. This means, among other things, that the very concept of a closed “pure nature” can be argued against by the human experience; but we cannot know, except through Jesus as prototype, the fullness of this openness, that is, whether or not there is a limit to what we can become. Through Jesus and his experience, we can know what Bulgakov says is correct, “Humankind, on its side, must be naturally capable of receiving and making room for a divine person in the stead of the human. In other words, the human being’s original mode of being is theandric.” Sergius Bulgakov. Sophia: The Wisdom of God., 85.

Nothing whatsoever is to be removed.
Not the slightest thing is to be added.
Truly looking at the truth, truth is seen.
When seen, this is complete liberation.”
Buddha Nature. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, 40.

Humanity in its proper form must be understood according to this original theandric mode of existence, and Jesus must be understood and studied accordingly, and not through the lens of our current, and even less than human mode of existence, one which is closed off to God because of sin. In saying this we must not see sin as some sort of ontological entity: evil does not exist, it consists entirely as a concept used to explain a deficiency in some good. To be saved by Christ is to be become entirely human. This opens us up to the life originally desired for us by God, nothing more, nothing less. “Obviously, in humans, created Wisdom is obscured by sin; but Christ, the second Adam, assumed a human nature exempt from sin, and so adequate to its divine prototype. But the very possibility of God’s taking human nature and uniting it with his own, rests upon the essential conformity between the two; and that, in its turn, rests upon the unity in diversity of Wisdom, in God and in the created world. That diversity can never abrogate this unity or analogy: this is primary.” Sergius Bulgakov. Sophia: The Wisdom of God., 88.

In order to experience this real, original humanity, we must first empty ourselves of all preconceptions of what we think it means to be human. How we interpret what it means to be human becomes the means by how we re-create ourselves; even when grace is offered to us, we reject its full implications and aid because of the habits we have created for ourselves, habits which we assume we cannot overcome because of our base notions of what it means to be human. “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philip. 1:21)We must lose ourselves of all notions, up to and including any notion of what it means to be who we are, and only then shall we gain our true life, our true existence as we are meant to be. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it,” (Mark 8:35). We must lose all false concepts of what it means to be who we are, to lose our very place in life, in order to gain the boundless openness offered to us by Christ. As long as we struggle to keep hold of our false preconceptions and use them to read Jesus as a reflection of ourselves, our Christ will not be the true Christ of history, but a construction and reflection of ourselves. “Jesus said to them, have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eye’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls,” (Matt. 21:42-44). Broken up, all that has closed our relationship to God will be destroyed. Then and only then, with the experience of the divine life restored, can humanity in its glory be understood. That glory is the glory we have seen in the life of Jesus “When he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is”(1 John 3:2).

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home