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

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Mystical Messiah IV: Conclusion

The Hidden Death and Resurrection

For Paul, solidarity or fellowship with Jesus in this life creates a “coporeity” with Jesus that ensures one will share with Him the resurrected state of being. It is one’s union with the historically determined Christ that provides the pattern for His union with the Mystical Christ. This is confirmed by Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels (Mt 5:11-12; Mk 8:35-38; Mt 6:6). Paul comes to identify this corporeity with the (mystical) “Body of Christ” and with the church: Jesus Himself is the firstborn of a new creation, the first to attain the resurrected state among many who are predestined (employing the Jewish understanding of the elect or true people of God) to share in the Kingdom with Him.

But how can one man’s body be thought of as encompassing an entire group of individual people, all with their own animated bodies? As we have seen, the glorified bodily existence of Christ is a spiritual reality that does not conform to natural spatio-temporal limitations; thus, it is possible for Paul to extend the meaning of one person’s body to incorporate a communal sharing in the effects that His spiritual presence has on them. Because the Spirit (or life-giving breath) of Christ is in each of them, their bodies are in a real sense Christ’s: His spiritual body becomes identified with all that is united to His Spirit.

This identification is crucial because it is Christ’s body that underwent crucifixion and resurrection, and as we have seen, these are events that must be transferred to those who hope to attain the resurrection state of existence. As Schweitzer notes:

The Body of Christ is no longer thought of by him [Paul] as an isolated entity, but as the point from which the dying and rising again, which began with Christ, passes over to the Elect who are united with Him; just as, on the other hand, the Elect no longer carry on an independent existence, but are now only the Body of Christ.[1]

In order for Christians to enter the Kingdom, they must undergo death and resurrection just as Jesus did: the pattern enacted in Jesus’ earthly life is carried across space and time into the very life of the believer, and it is according to this pattern alone that he can attain the union he seeks. But for those who are alive, this death and resurrection must have somehow occurred without them actually dying and rising in the physical sense. Thus, it is through sharing in the Body of Christ that the death and resurrection of Jesus Himself is actually transferred to the life of the believer. It is re-lived, re-performed in a new life that is now thought of as Christ’s life, in a new body that is thought of as Christ’s body. The Christian undergoes the very death and resurrection of Jesus in a hidden manner:

But whereas this dying and rising again has been openly manifested in Jesus, in the Elect it goes forward secretly but nonetheless really. Since in the nature of the their corporeity they are now assimilated to Jesus Christ, they become, through His death and resurrection, beings in whom dying and rising again have already begun, although the outward seeming of their natural existence remains unchanged.[2]

The Christian becomes, like Christ, a supernatural being, but in a way that is not yet manifest.

Paul’s mysticism is not only ecclesial in nature (as only occurring through the Body of Christ understood communally), but also has an intrinsically sacramental element. Baptism is the means by which this dying and rising is first enacted, for that is the manner of entering into the corporeity with Jesus. The symbolic structure of Baptism betrays this mystical teaching (as dying and rising). In undergoing a mystical death, the Christian dies to the existential state of “sin,” “flesh,” “the world,” “the Law,” and “death.” Insofar as he is in the Body of Christ, he achieves the status of being on the level of the “in Christ”; the dynamic of a hidden dying and rising is the mechanism through which this occurs.

Mysticism for Paul, then, can be described as the eschatology looked at from within. It is developed from an analysis of the effects that the resurrection of Christ has on traditional Jewish eschatology, and thus is lived out between Resurrection and Return. In this context, the understanding of a spiritual Messiah comes to light: His indwelling (“Christ in us”) takes the form of re-presenting His very death and resurrection in a hidden way within the believer to bring him to the resurrected state; and on the side of the believer (“in Christ”), this can only occur as one partakes of His spiritual body, which is identified with a communal reality (the ecclesia).

II. Conclusion

We have now successfully located in a modern Christology a coherent mystical logic and proceeded to trace its key principles back to their foundational concepts and phrases in the writings of Paul. We then went further and examined these original concepts in light of their concomitant presuppositions and broader theological context. Hopefully, our analysis has formed the first step in a process of illumination by which the mystical dialect of modern spirituality can become more intelligible. In this regard, we see this current project as serving at least three more comprehensive goals: The first is that it lays the foundation of a mystical Christology of the kind that Balthasar constructs: understanding more about the nature of Christ from His mystical relationship with and presence manifest in the lives of believers. Understanding the origin and context of its key notions leads to a deeper understanding of the “spiritual” dimension of Christ’s very being. And no account of Jesus will be complete if it ignores the unique spiritual dimension of His being that is a consequence of His enduring presence in the lives of believers. Secondly, such a study provides a greater understanding of the Christian mystical tradition of the kind exemplified by Maximus, Bernard, Bonaventure, and Julian: making its writings more intelligible and therefore more fruitful for the spiritual growth of the Church. It allows us to understand why and how they articulate the ascent to union with God in terms of partaking in the experiences of Christ, for we now know the precedent set by Paul. These writings can therefore be seen as developments of a theological tradition that goes before them.

Finally, and most importantly, this study has the potential to contribute to the enrichment of spirituality for modern Christianity: making spirituality intelligible for self-understanding, allowing one to more greatly understand and foster a relationship with Christ, to live according to the movements of the Spirit, and to understand one’s own life as grafted into the narrative of Christ’s very life. Indeed, according to Schweitzer, without a general understanding of this mystical element, we cannot have the proper conception of ourselves as Christians.[3] The notions like those that Balthasar puts forth, of seeing the fulfillment of one’s existence in the sharing of Christ’s life and story, this now, according to Paul’s logic, at least becomes a rationally coherent vision and thus a conceptual possibility (not mere fluff or gibberish). If we can make sense of the view that we are in Christ and He is in us, then our entire lives can be consciously structured according to Christ’s. This mysticism provides a means of re-interpretation of all of our experiences, inflecting them with radically new depth and meaning. A primary instance of this potential transformation can be found in our suffering.[4]

If one conceives of his own life as driven by a hidden re-living of Christ’s life, then all of his suffering takes on a new value, a new role, in reference to that hidden reality. It gets grafted, as it were, into the story of Christ. All of our suffering which tends toward the destruction of life is rethought as the expression of that mystical, hidden “dying” with Christ that marks the diminishing of only the natural state of existence. Suffering is reinterpreted as one moment in the eschatological drama, one stage in our transformation into a supernatural state that follows the pattern of Christ’s transformation (death before resurrection). All suffering becomes tied to the hope of resurrection. This is only one instance in which all of life’s experiences gain new and enduring value when one sees his own story as only complete, only properly told, as a sequel; or better yet, a creative retelling of Christ’s story with new characters. Because in reality, Christ truly succeeds in making His story our own.

[1] Schweitzer, p.118

[2] Ibid., p.110

[3] Schweitzer, p.377-379

[4] Ibid., pp.141-160; 385


Post a Comment

<< Home