We shall not get beyond the alternatives of “lyrical” and “epic,” spirituality (prayer and personal involvement) and theology (the objective discussion of facts), so long as we fail to include the dramatic dimension of revelation, in which alone they can discover their unity. [Human beings] can address God, and [address each other]; the Church, too, can speak to those within and to those without. But this tension is resolved in the context of a third dimension that embraces it: in the context of God’s action, which challenges the believer, takes him [or her] over and appoints him [or her] to be a witness. A witness, moreover, in the early Christian sense: a “martyr” – bearing witness with his whole existence. Otherwise he is no real “witness to the truth”. . (p. 57)
We too are involved in this dramatic campaign, so much so that the “evil day” leaves us no time to speculate about the necessarily favorable outcome: all of us must transform the graces we have received from God into a divine armor (Eph 6:13) and use it as such…
For now, under the God-given “Law” (in all its forms) will be put forward as the presence of the divine in the world, and people will attempt to subject [humanity’s] freedoms to its abstract omnipotence. And, on the other hand, under the banner of a self-absolutizing pagan culture, people will play off the “lawless” (anomos, 1 Cor 9:21) and “godless” (atheos, Eph 2:12) freedom of the “autonomous individual” against the abstract Law… Law must prove obsolete in the person who fulfills it from within, out of the love of Christ (Gal 5:23; 1 Tim 1:9), and freedom must hand itself over as a prisoner to Christ, so that it can now truly receive itself back from him (Gal 5:1). (p. 83)
If the once-for-all drama of Christ is to be exalted as the norm of the entire dramatic dimension of human life, two things must happen simultaneously: the abyss of all tragedy must be plumbed to the very bottom (which no purely human tragedy can do); and, in it and transcending it, we must discern the element of gracious destiny that genuinely touches human existence (and not merely seems to touch it). Thus the dramatic aspect of existence yields postulates addressed to Christology, although they can only be meaningful if they have already encountered the revelation concerning Christ. First, there is the postulate that Christ’s being is of such a kind that he is able to descend into the abyss of all that is tragic – far beyond the ability of any tragic hero (who only bears his [or her] own destiny) – and hence that the tragic overstretching of his [or her] person must be absolute, that is, divine. (For “demi-gods” are self-contradictory.) The other postulate is that, precisely in this abyss of unsurpassable tragedy, the element of grace asserts itself, that grace which encompasses existence and can persist and penetrate into the conciliatory aspect of tragedy. Both together lead to the absolute christological paradox: in the horror of dissolution – under the weight of the world’s guilt and of forsakenness by God – we are delivered from the meaninglessness of the world’s suffering, and grace and reconciliation carry the day. John brings both aspects together in his concept of “exaltation” (exaltation on the Cross and exaltation to God’s presence) and “glory”. “Glory” is the manifestation of the Father’s love for the world in the Son’s bearing of the world’s sin: by an inner necessity, this pure obedience to the Father calls for the Father to glorify the Son and announces it in advance . . . (p. 84)
From this vantage point, once more, we can ask the question we asked at the beginning: Are our “eyes of faith” able to see the normative form, now unfolded into a drama, as a form? The answer can now be in the affirmative. Form is a meaningful unity in a multiplicity of organs; in its fundamental articulations – his Incarnation, his preaching of the kingdom and preparing of the Church, his suffering, his solidarity with the dead and reunion with the Father, his return at the end of history – Christ’s dramatic form is the simple self-presentation of a single attitude, which is the effective expression of God’s love for the world… (p. 87)
The New Testament relationship between heaven and earth can only be illuminated dramatically, not aesthetically or in a Gnostic and structuralist manner…
Augustine, it seems, does not entirely escape the danger of an aesthetic interpretation when, arguing against the Manichees, he addresses God in these terms in his famous prayer: O God, through whom the universe, even in its evil part, is made perfect, . . . as the lower things make harmony with the better.”: here the “lower” is applied to the earth and the “better” to heaven, and the two together – despite all the individual clashes – yield a whole, a perfect harmony, in such a way that the unity between the higher and lower is better than the higher on its own…
The danger of a Gnostic and structuralist interpretation lurks in the late Jewish Apocalyptic, which has its roots in the wisdom literature. According to this, everything that is the come forth at the end of time has already existed, hiddenly, in God (thus privileged seers were able t behold it); history consists simply in drawing back the curtain that conceals what is only provisionally veiled. In such a case anthropology would be merely the realization of a correspondence that already exists between the eternal and temporal [human]: “Living here and now in the Beyond”…
Nor is the possible to take up a standpoint (in salvation history) prior to or subsequent to the earth/heaven dichotomy, as Ephrem the Syrian attempts to do, with naïve boldness in his Hymns on Paradise . . . we cannot know in advance what the stage will look like at the end of the play… not mutilation but transformation… (pp 88-9)
Tag Archives: Eschatology
Explaining the Theological Signficance of my Dissertation
[A few weeks ago I posted my dissertation abstract here (see link below), but was then asked to provide further clarification for what I understand to be the significance, uniqueness and potential contribution of my dissertation to contemporary, constructive Christian theology. This is how I responded.]
First, as a work of political theology, it is hoped that a Christian soteriology will be expounded here that adequately develops a vision of redemption for the contemporary political and social situation in question on the one hand, but one that is also informed by eschatology – namely, has its criticism and inspiration rooted in an understanding of Christian hope in God’s coming reign through Christ as anticipated in Scripture and the confessing tradition of the Church – on the other hand. Such an eschatologically-sensitized political theology will also necessarily take its departure from the social location of the Christian faith community, rather than principally from the standpoint of state citizenship. Only from the eyes of faith, it is believed, can a resistance to violence and suffering be embodied in the spirit of neighborliness. The object of that faith is taken here to be the beauty and goodness instantiated by Christ (von Balthasar), which is seen most acutely by this Incarnate bearing and overcoming of unjust death (Sobrino).
At the same time, these two places or identities – that of the church and the state – cannot be separated. Moreover, if different identifies of religious, political or cultural groups are isolated from each other and/or reified, the possibility of neighborly praxis is thwarted (Dussel). Therefore, and secondly, a notion of identity and discourse as transmodern will help to elucidate how salvation in this conflict can be conceived as both historical and eschatological, ecclesial and political, particular and planetary. According to Dussel, however, transmodern identity, even if hybridized or pluriversal (a way of talking about solidarity and difference dialectically), is reliable precisely because it is subaltern in nature, or, formed from the view of history’s underside, what for me is a thoroughly Christian theological idea in spite of Christianity’s heritage of imperial complicity. Thus, it will be necessary to attempt an immersion in the experience of the colonized — not to do a cross-cultural ‘study’, which would still leave us blind to the colonial difference (Walter Mignolo), but to make a contribution to the project of decolonization itself. For only a decolonized Christian theology is a viable one in the age of globalization.
Of course, various theologies of liberation have explored historical and political salvation from the perspective of the marginalized before. My concern, however, is that the eschatologies of these theologies have sometimes been either over-realized or anthropomorphized. That is, they have perhaps placed too much hope in political and economic reformation, even if these are nonetheless vital dimensions of any contextual theology (indeed, material relations are assumed here to be the most determinative of any context). Accordingly then, a more contemplative conception of salvation is needed from the view of existence itself, and from the view of God’s action on behalf of humanity and all of creation as Christians conceive it – not merely as inspiration for social liberation.
Thirdly, as a transdisciplinary project that will engage globalization theories in the area of economics and cultural studies, and that will also be looking at practical examples of neighborliness from an ecclesial perspective, a careful analysis of context is crucial for the success of this dissertation and for its theological significance. This is because a theology can only truly be significant when it is appropriately contextualized, as all theology is in fact contextual. Many modern and postmodern theologies have neglected to account for the context of material relations vis-à-vis globalization in the manner that I intend to, and the contribution and relevance to political theology hereby depends on this.
 I still presuppose the importance of social liberation for my understanding of Christian salvation, especially as it is expressed from the experience of social suffering by the poor and marginalized. I am simply suggesting that the example of Christ and the promise of eschatological salvation, preserved by transcendent and not only immanent hope, must also constitute the imagination, expectation and performance of this historical salvation. In this way, it is hoped that Christian theology can be both subversive and peaceful, or non-anxious.