Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The forthcoming of the this-worldly "new humanity"

Romano Amerio, in his magisterial book Iota Unum, writes very critically about the anthropology espoused by the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. His critique focuses particularly on the end of number 30, the last sentence of which reads: "But this development cannot occur unless individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society; thus, with the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming." In response Amerio points out that the Catholic faith "knows of only three radical kinds of newness, capable of bringing about a new state of humanity and, as it were, of transnaturalizing it. The first is defective, and is the one by which man fell, by reason of a primordial fault, from a state of integrity and supernatural existence. The second is restorative and perfective, and is the one way by which the grace of Christ restores the original state of human nature and, indeed, elevates that nature above its original condition. The third is completive of the whole order of things, and is the one by which, at the end of time, man endowed with grace is also beatified and glorified in a supreme assimilation of the creature to the Creator, an assimilation which, in via Thomae just as much as in via Scoti, is the very purpose of the universe" (Amerio 112).

It is well known that apart from Lumen Gentium's identifying the Church as the "People of God," Gaudium et Spes is Pope Benedict XVI's least favorite document of the council. It must be noted that even its canonical status as a so-called pastoral constitution is unclear, kind of like a conciliar non-binding resolution. What is most problematic about this document is precisely its tortured anthropology. Especially in the 60s the moniker new man was associated with Marxist regimes beginning with the Russian homo Sovieticus, the idea that the Soviet system would create a new, better kind of person. There was also Ché Guevara's (a man who truly turned to evil, despite The Motorcycles Diaries- how could seeing the suffering of so many of South America's poor make a person undertake to worsen their plight?- is not worthy of the veneration given him by young people who know nothing of his camps and pogroms in Cuba)New Man- both of which were existentialist in orientation and were attempted in a brutal, repressive, and murderous manner.

It may very well have been the case that the Council Fathers were trying to re-orient this idea in a Christian direction. It was most certainly not the case that the socialist new man, or the methods of bringing him into existence, were in any way adopted or endorsed by the Council, but, as Amerio shows, there is nothing defective in the Church's Tradition on this matter and it is jettisoned or ignored to the peril of the faith, as it introduces many confusions. Along this same line aim is taken at number 24 of the Gaudium et Spes, during his exposition on the holiness of the Church. This number of the Pastoral Constitution reads in part that human beings are creatures willed for their own sake "rather than for [God's] sake." One can only affirm the former at the expense of the latter, Amerio insists, and only if one "indulges in the anthropocentric tendencies of the modern mentality and, to put it in theological terms, if one abandons the distinction between antecedent predestination, which concerns humanity [as a whole] and consequent predestination which concerns men [as individuals]" (Amerio 130). Please do not get overwrought at the mention of pre-destination. There will be more forthcoming on this doctrine. Suffice it to write for now, that I am not a Calvinist or a crypto-Calvinist.

10 comments:

  1. I do not like that he insists that God's sake and our sakes are at the "expense" of each other. Even if one does suppose this, then one should conclude that God's sacrifice on the cross (God "turning against himself", as Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical)is an affirmation of our sakes over His. But, personally, I don't like "going there" in my theological questioning.

    In terms of his first point, whose to say that the council fathers did not have in mind the "restorative and perfective" newness which Jesus brought/brings to humanity? Number 30 is a description of how man cooperates with grace, n'est-ce pas?

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  2. It obviously makes quite a bit of difference if we are created for our own sake or for God's. It is the Traditional teaching that all things exist for God's sake. This is axiomatic. If I exist for my own sake then it is right for me do what is pleasing to me. There is no parallel at all with what the Holy Father writes regarding Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Of course Christ turned against himself for our sake ("for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven . . .). Again, language matters, Christ, the Son, turning against himself for our sake in enduring the Cross is not the same as God turning against himself. In turning against himself and enduring the Cross for our sakes, the Son is fulfilling the will of the Father (Not my will, but yours be done). Without his condescending to do so, God's purpose in creating us in the first place(arguably) could not be realized because of the Fall. Our being created for God's own sake is certainly a blessing and a boon for us.

    I think that the Council Fathers had in mind, especially in number 30, something other than the restorative and perfective newness we receive at Baptism and through the sacramnets is obvious. Just as we continue to sin after Baptism, it is the case that no matter how much we cooperate with God's grace we will not usher in heaven on earth. Can we make the earth a better place? Certainly! Nonetheless, we must be realistic about what we can obtain in light of the faith this side of heaven. So, while number 30 is a description of how we cooperate with God's grace, the end it sees us achieving through such cooperation is highly problematic.

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  3. I want to point out that in addition to not being a crypto-Calvinist, I am not an opponent of Vatican II. Of all the conciliar documents of which there are (too) many, Gaudium et Spes is problematic on a number of levels, not least of which is the canonical status of a Pastoral Constitution, let alone some of its contents. It is typically know as the constitution on the Church in the modern world. It has some passages that are quite wonderful.

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  4. If I exist for my own sake then it is right for me do what is pleasing to me.

    Of course, but if God is our greatest good, in whom our hearts find rest, then our sake and His sake are not exclusive.

    I think that you might want to look over article 10 in _Deus Caritas Est_. Benedict's comment about God turning against Himself applies equally to the Old Testament Yahweh as it does to Jesus in the New Testament.

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  5. So, while number 30 is a description of how we cooperate with God's grace, the end it sees us achieving through such cooperation is highly problematic.

    If we focus on the claim: "a new humanity" (in lower case), it is not immediately obvious that this means "heaven on earth". It reflects St. Paul's affirmation of a "new creation" replacing the "old man". Christ said that the Kingdom has come and is "among us/within us". In charity, can't we read article 30 in this light?

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  6. Deus Caritas Est, number 10 reads: "We have seen"- in considering God's love in the Jewish Scriptures- "that God's eros for man is also totally agape", ascending and descending love. This love "is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love."

    So, we see that in the end, God does not turn against Himself but reconciles love and justice in Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. All of this is yet more evidence that we are created for God's sake and not our own. We can also turn to the Baltimore Catechism:

    Q: Why did God make you?
    A: God made me to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this life and to live and be happy with Him forever in heaven.

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  7. So, we see that in the end, God does not turn against Himself but reconciles love and justice in Christ's sacrifice on the Cross.

    In order for the phrase to be useful at all, then one cannot say that it doesn't, in some sense, happen. I would say that the primacy of God's justice in the Old Testament is replaced by His love in the New Testament. "God is Love." I cannot see how it can be interpreted otherwise. In any case, it is still God's sacrifice as He follows "[man] even into death...". For our part, we have nothing to make a fitting sacrifice. We lose all sense of the Mystery if it is not a fact that God was on the Cross.

    God made me to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this life and to live and be happy with Him forever in heaven.

    That we must conform to God's will is a separate issue from - what is for God's sake and what is for ours. N'est-ce pas? If service to God is for our own sake (ie: eternal happiness) then it cannot be argued that God thwarts our sake for his own. How can the two be exclusive if, as Jesus teaches, to love and help each other is to love Him?

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  8. Suffice it to say that in number 10 of DCE it is clear that the Holy Father does not write that God actually turns against himself, thus privileging His love for humankind over His justice. If God were to do so (i.e., turn His love against His justice), He would be less than perfect, which is unthinkable. Instead of privileging love over mercy, God reconciles them both in Christ. In Jesus Christ God manifests His love for humanity (Jn 3,16), but Christ's sacrificial death also satisfies His justice (2 Cor 5,21). This reconciliation is only imperfectly clear in the Jewish Scriptures, which is the Holy Father's point in this number of DCE.

    God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. To know God is to love God. To love God is to serve God. "If you love me keep my commandments." Again, that we are created for God's sake and not for our own is axiomatic to Scripture and Tradition.

    If we only serve God for own sake, for our own well-being, how is this service, which is supposed to be our love made manifest, selfless, like Christ's love for us? What did the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity gain by becoming human, by suffering, by dying, or even by being resurrected? Was he lacking anything he needed, even to be happy (Phil 2,5-11)?

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  9. Suffice it to say that in number 10 of DCE it is clear that the Holy Father does not write that God actually turns against himself ... He would be less than perfect, which is unthinkable.

    This is true. Still, God the Son pays the debt of justice that God the Father demands and, in this way, God suffers his own punishment. This is a love which radically challenges the human notion of justice. Leaves it in the dust.

    If we only serve God for own sake, for our own well-being, how is this service, which is supposed to be our love made manifest, selfless, like Christ's love for us?

    Good question. Christ said that he is in the Father and if, as you quote, we follow his commandments, then the Son will live in us. This divine union is our destiny. The only alternative is to live the final rejection of our destiny. And so, in the long-term, there is no well-being without following his commandments. God made us for Himself and so to reject Him is the ultimate self-rejection. This is all to say, in my imperfect way, that God's sake and our sakes are not different.

    Now, to go one step further. God actually gives us a choice in the matter. He does not force us to become the person that he created us to be. He would not have given us this free will if he did not love us for our own sakes - enough to allow us to choose our will over His.

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  10. "God suffers his own punishment"

    So, God is a masochist? Looked at from a Trinitarian perspective, God does not suffer his own punishment. Such an understanding reflects an implicit modalism, as it employs ambiguously the word God(i.e., not in a Trinitarian manner). The Son suffers to satisfy divine justice, incurring the punishment due us at the will of the Father (i.e.,"not my will, but thy will be done"). Think Abraham, Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Divine justice demands satisfaction to fail this is not only to fail justice, but to fail love as well. After all, one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is correct the ignorant.

    I do not get all the point you keep insisting upon as regards our sake v. God's. Of course, our being created for God's sake works in our favor. Our existence is the first grace, the first gratuitous act of love by God on our behalf. Answer the fundamental question: Why did God make you? This is clear enough. One can hardly assert that the Catechism of the Council of Trent, on which the Baltimore Catechism is based, or the current Catechism are in error. I am not even asserting that the Gaudium et Spes is error, just ambiguous in a perilous way.

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