Because this Sunday's readings include the so-called Kenotic Hymn from the second chapter of Paul's Letter to the Philippians and because kenosis, which means "to empty," is so key to diakonia, I am pulling something from my dissertation for my reflection on this week's readings. It is important to note up-front that Paul is likely not the author of the Kenotic Hymn. Rather, it was a hymn in use among some early Christians that Paul appropriates to set forth the point he is trying to get across. What is that point? His point is an exhortatory one: that the Christians of ancient Philippi
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:3-5)He then uses the hymn to describe what Christ's attitude is.
Below is the beginning of what I wrote and published. The ellipses at the end of the paragraph indicate the parapgraph that follows is not the subsequent paragraph in the original text. Of course, the footnote numbering is unnique to this blog post, starting with 1 and proceeding sequentially. This is from the third chapter of my dissertation. The title of this chapter is "Kenosis is the essence of diakonia."
It is the very nature of the tri-personal God to be self-emptying for the Other. It has been noted that the Incarnation of the Son of God is an event “so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma” on the world.1 The Incarnation is the profoundest instance of God-being-God. As previously noted, perhaps the best way to translate the first phrase of Philippians 2:6 - (ὃς ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων2 ) - is “Being in the form of God…” Stated another way, it is because “he was in the form of God” that Jesus “did not regard” his divinity “as something to be grasped,” or made use of in a debased manner.3 Stated a bit differently, the Lord’s self-emptying was not despite his divinity but precisely because of it. Too often what is usually referred to as the “Kenotic Hymn” is understood and communicated in such a way that it is made to seem as if Christ’s self-emptying was at odds with his divinity rather than being surest sign that he is “true God from true God.”4 Hugh Montefiore points out that “Jesus’ disclosure shows that in his very nature God is self-effacing.” This observation, he goes on to note, stands in direct contrast to traditional Christian orthodoxy, which “has thought of him as the opposite; majestic, glorious and triumphal”5...
When considering a theological concept wrought from a single word, even when that word is taken from the Scriptures, or perhaps especially when the word comes from the Scriptures, it is important to carefully examine it. The Greek word used in Philippians 2:7 that is often translated into English as “emptied” is ἐκένωσεν. ἐκένωσεν transliterates as ekenōsen. The root word of ἐκένωσεν is κενόω, which transliterates as kenoó. Κενόω, along with its variants, such as ἐκένωσεν, is a verb. Like most words in every language, κενόω has a range of meanings, each one emphasizing an aspect of the word while maintaining its general sense...
The verb ἐκένωσεν in Philippians 2:7 is in the aorist tense. While it is easy to reduce all verbs in the aorist tense to the indicative sense and so relegate the action to the past, it is important to remember that the aorist tense also has what is sometimes referred to as an ingestive or inceptive sense.6 When used in the inceptive sense, an aorist verb expresses an action without indicating or even implying either its completion or continuation. Aorist verbs used in the inceptive sense tend “to stress the beginning of an action or the entrance into a state.”7 It seems clear from its context in Philippians that ἐκένωσεν is used in this inceptive sense to stress the beginning of Jesus becoming impoverished, or emptying himself of what humans all-too-readily perceive, if mistakenly, as divinity, by entering into the human state...
The implications of the Kenotic Hymn as a whole and verse 7 in particular for the diaconate seem quite clear. Applying the Kenotic Hymn to the diaconate bolsters James Keating’s claim that “without service (diaconate)” there cannot be acceptable sacrifice (priesthood).8 A deacon’s willingness to sacrifice is a prerequisite for ordination. Teaching his closest disciples about the only leadership that can authentically be called Christian, Jesus asks them: “For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table?”9 He then emphatically tells them: “I am among you as the one who serves.”10
It is interesting that Paul’s Letter to the Philippians contains one of the few references and certainly the earliest reference to deacon as an office in the church: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers.”11 The last phrase in Greek is σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις.12 This literally translates as “together with bishops and deacons.”
1 John Milbank, Slavoj Žižek, Creston Davis, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, 7.↩
2 Eberhard Nestle, Novum Testamentum graece.↩
3 Philippians 2:6.↩
4 The Roman Missal, “The Order of Mass,” sec. 18.↩
5 Hugh Montefiore, “Jesus and the Revelation of God,” 111.↩
6 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes, 556-559.↩
7 Ibid., 558.↩
8 James Keating, The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ, 2-3.↩
9 Luke 22:27.↩
10 Luke 22:27.↩
11 Philippians 1:1.↩
12 Nestle, Eberhard. Novum Testamentum graece.↩