Friday, October 05, 2007

Jesus' filial existence; the inner life of the Trinity


I have been reading Pope Benedict XVI's book "Jesus of Nazareth". The Holy Father says he wrote this book as a way to advance our knowledge of Jesus past the artificial gulf between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" that arose out of the last 70 years of biblical scholarship, when the historical-critical method reached its apex of influence and was often used as the sole methodology for shedding light on the biblical Jesus. I devoured that theology in the 70's and 80's, especially the Germans like Bultmann and Jeremias, who are known very well to BXVI. So far I am loving this book.

Benedict does not in any way denigrate the historical-critical method, as some folks have done in reaction to the claims of scholars like the Jesus Seminar. "The historical-critical method - let me repeat - is an indispensable tool, given the structure of Christian faith," he writes. "This method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God."

But he does discuss its limitations and its complementarity with other methods:
" ' Canonical exegesis' - reading the individual texts of the Bible in the context of the whole - is an essential dimenstion of exegesis. It does not contradict historical-critical interpretation, but carries it forward in an organic way toward becoming theology in the proper sense... Historical-critical interpretation of a text seeks to discover the precise sense the words were intended to convey at their time and place of origin. ... But - aside from the fact that such reconstructions can claim only a relative certainty - it is necessary to keep in mind that any human utterance of a certain weight contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time. When a word transcends the moment in which it is spoken, it carries within itself a 'deeper value'. This 'deeper value' pertains most of all to words that have matured in the course of faith-history. For in this case the author... is speaking from the perspective of a common history that sustains him and that already implicitly contains the possibilities of its future, of the further stages of its journey. The process of continually rereading and drawing out new meanings from words would not have been possible unless the words themselves were already open to it from within."

But all that precedes what I really want to talk about, which is Jesus' filial existence. Benedict starts by focusing on Jesus as prophet. He quotes twice from Deuteronomy:

"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you ... him you shall heed." (Deut 18:15) and then, at Deuteronomy's conclusion, " And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel, like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." (Deut 34:10)

As a record of the evolving community, these two passages show that the Jewish faithful were expecting God to raise up a prophet like Moses. Or, possibly, a prophet greater than Moses. Benedict comments on the mysterious text in Exodus in which Moses asks God, "I pray thee, show me thy glory" but God replies, "You cannot see my face... you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen." God then hides Moses in the cleft of a rock, and as He passes by in His glory, covers Moses' eyes with His hand. So although the Lord knew Moses "face to face", Moses was not allowed to see the fulness of God's glory, for his own safety.

Benedict believes Israel expects, from the Deuteronomy verses, that the promised new prophet will be even greater: God will not only converse intimately with him, as with Moses, but He will grant Moses' request to this new prophet, "a prophet like me", and allow him to look upon the face of God unhidden.

Then Benendict writes about how the gospels continually refer to Jesus withdrawing and praying. I reproduce his words below, with extra white space because as anyone who is still with me knows, it takes concentration to read long paragraphs online:

"Again and again the Gospels note that Jesus withdrew 'to the mountain' to spend nights in prayer 'alone' with his Father. These short passages are fundamental for our understanding of Jesus; they lift the veil of mystery just a little; they give us a glimpse into Jesus' filial existence, into the source from which his action and teaching and suffering sprang.

This 'praying' of Jesus is the Son conversing with the Father; Jesus' human consciousness and will, his human soul, is take up into that exchange, and in this way human 'praying' is able to become a participation in this filial communion with the Father.

... Jesus is only able to speak about the Father the way he does because he is the Son, because of his filial communion with the Father. The Christological dimension - in other words, the mystery of the Son as revealer of the Father - is present in everything Jesus says and does.

Another important point appears here: We have said that in Jesus' filial communion with the Father, his human soul is also taken up into the act of praying. He who sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). The disciple who walks with Jesus is thus caught up with him into communion with God.

And that is what redemption means: this stepping beyond the limits of human nature, which had been there as a possibility and an expectation in man, God's image and likeness, since the moment of creation."
--- Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). pp. 7-8.
What provokes my thought is the attention to the Son's filial relationship to the Father. In the hypostatic union - the union of human and divine nature in the one person of Jesus -- Jesus born in time, human like us in all ways but sin, is drawn up into the relationship between Father and Son that has existed in saecula saeculorum, now and forever.

All roads in theology lead to the Blessed Trinity -- the life of the Persons of God. The more we study, meditate on, and contemplate the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, the more we understand what our human relationships are to be like. The Trinity is the most esoteric of doctrines, but its implications are as nitty-gritty as it comes, for our daily life on this earth.

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