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June 21, 2005

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Spirit of Vatican II

The lengthiest commentary this article has received comes from Philip Blosser, http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_pblosser_archive.html#112351348588701428.

Unfortunately, Blosser's essay is playing to his own neocath gallery, and freely caricatures his target. For instance, he says: "he tends to describe formulations like those of Chalcedon derisively as "cold," "logical," and "bloodless." In fact I denied that Chalcedon is "cold": "Chalcedon, ideally, is at the service of encounter. Its four negative adverbs ward off falsifications of that encounter, urging us to respect the integrity of Jesus' humanity and of his divinity, neither fusing, altering, dividing nor separating them. Despite the Neoplatonic language (Porphyry uses asunchutos and Plotinus atreptos with reference to the soul's relation to the body), the space of the statement need not be characterised as a COLD, neutral one in which the hypostasis and the natures of Christ are objectified and torn out of the context of lived encounter. But Christology after Chalcedon became rigid, building a `cordon sanitaire around some irreducible core in Jesus' (Van Beeck, p. 422)., because the dogma was made into an absolute point of departure, instead of being constantly referred back to the encounter with Christ in Scripture and in the Church's worship."

As to "logical" I so say that "Dogmas mark certain logical constraints which must be respected in order to guard the integrity of the encounter, but they do not provide a foundation or synthesis superior to or equal to the biblical events themselves." But I do not have the childish aversion to logic that Blosser imagines, and I also stress that the horos of Chalcedon goes beyond logic in freeing a horizon of contemplation, an opening for further thought on the Incarnation.

As to "bloodless", like "ossified" which Blosser also attributes to me, it is not in my vocabulary at all! It is true that I say that another author sees Chalcedon as bloodless. A basic rule of reponsible hermeneutics, however, is to distinguish between the author you are criticizing and other authors that he quotes, particularly if he criticizes those authors. "K. Beyschag, who is severely critical of Chalcedon's play with bloodless categories, reminds us that Christ represents the eschatological inbreaking of God's grace and judgement, he is its earthly personification, and thus it is precisely insofar as he is fully and entirely man that he is fully and entirely God (Grundriss der Dogmengeschichte II.1 [Darmstadt, 1991], p. 133. But such animadversions need to be set within a fuller account of the metaphysical provenance of Chalcedon's categories and by a subtler, Heideggerian analysis both of their occulting effect and of the manner in which Chalcedon nonetheless functions as a disclosure event. B. Welte does not criticize Chalcedon but, recognizing its ontological framing of dogma to be historically relative, proposes to reground it in a quasi-Heideggerian language of event: `Es ereignete sich, indem sich der ganze Mensch ereignete, der ganze lebendige Gott auf den glaubenden Menschen hin. In dem einen Ereignis, in dem sich der Mensch ereignete, ereignete sich auch der lebendige Gott' `Die Krisis der dogmatischen Christusaussagen'; in: A. Paus, ed., Die Frage nach Jesus (Graz, 1973), p. 177. Heidegger might say, as he did of Bultmann's TWNT article on `faith': `Too Heideggerian for me!' But though Welte's proposal needs to be cashed in richer biblical terms, it indicates the hermeneutic task: to clarify the phenomena that gave rise to dogma and to measure against them the limits of the horizon within which the dogma was formulated." Read in context, it is clear that I do not consider Chalcedon "a ballet of bloodless categories"!

Blosser's next substantive criticism is this: "he describes what he calls the "two realities" at issue in the Chalcedonian formulation as follows: "One is fleshly: the life and death of a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. The other is spiritual: an encounter with the living God ...." The first, he says, is a "matter of fact"; the second, a "self-authenticating" matter of "Christian experience." Notice that the matter of fact here includes the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Not His resurrection. The resurrection, of course, is consigned to the "self-authenticating" realm of "Christian experience," which, please note, is beyond the realm of fact." Blosser should note that I speak of two REALITIES. The contrast of Jesus Son of David and Jesus established as Son of God by the resurrection of the dead goes back to Paul, Romans 1.

"The distinction O'Leary is assuming here comes from that tired, old dichotomy of the biblical historical-critics, which severs the "Christ of Faith" (the resurrected Christ) from the "Jesus of History" (the historical man who lived and died)." Tired, old, but not necessarily invalid, especially when one stress the intimate identity of the two.

" This dichotomy is simply a transposed, religious version of the "value/fact" dichotomy that runs back through Kant's "noumenal/phenomenal" dualism to still earlier versions of that bifurcation." This is quite incorrect. The noumenal is beyond experience, whereas the risen Christ is a reality of experience. Again, the postulation of value, merely projected onto the facts, is certainly a totally anemic conception of what resurrection and incarnation mean, and one that is completely alien to me.

"This dichotomy, long defended by logical empiricists and other positivists of yesteryear, has been soundly exposed for the piffle it is. The problem is that the dichotomy is utterly contrived and collapses the moment it meets with reality. For values are facts too; and facts are permeated with values." This would undermine Blosser's critique above; but in any case it would never occur to me to see resurrection and incarnation as merely valuations; the notion of value has no place whatever here.

Spirit of Vatican II

Blosser quotes the following statement: "Today this clarification is likely to be seen as an estrangement. Our search to articulate the relation of the human and divine dimensions of the Christ-event has to overcome the Chalcedonian perspective through a lucid critique of its limitations."

Note that such a critique would be quite in accord with John XXIII's distinction between the truth of doctrine and the limits of its historical formulations.

Blosser comments: "One hears the echoes of Martin Heidegger's existentialism, as one does in the demythologizing theology of Rudolf Bultmann. Expressions such as "Christ-event," "overcoming" (usually "overcoming of metaphysics"), and "retrieval" (usually retrieval of something long hidden, like Heidegger's "Being," or Paul Tillich's "Ground of Being") are nuts-and-bolts trade jargon in the industry of theological existentialism." Again, why does this make these categories invalid? The term "Christ-event" is used by many very "orthodox" theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger.

"It would be helpful to know why this presumably hidden truth of Chalcedon has been overlooked for so many centuries. Why weren't earlier attempts at uncovering this truth more effective? One reason, O'Leary says, is that "[earlier] critics have been unable to bring into view the nature of the Greek metaphysical horizon within which the classical doctrine developed; here Heidegger offers resources for a critical genealogy which theology has yet to exploit." (p. 2)"

"Indeed! Just as fish don't know what it means to be wet, earlier theologians didn't know what it was to be immersed in a "Greek metaphysical horizon," because they lacked sufficient critical distance." Actually, there is at least one major exception -- Luther. Heidegger's project of overcoming was initially inspired by Luther, and he brings refinements that were not available to Luther or to Lutheran theologians.

" And it is none other than Heidegger, according to O'Leary, who provides this critical distance through his genealogical deconstruction (or "destruction," as Heidegger sometimes calls it) of the western metaphysical and "onto-theological" tradition." Quite.

Now how does Blosser refute this claim? "Heidegger translated the categories of his erstwhile Christian faith into secular, existential equivalents, so that his philosophy is in many ways a secularized substitute for his erstwhile faith. ... Similar patterns in secularized existential theology can be found, for example, in John Macquarrie's Principles of Christian Theology and Paul Tillich's three-volume Systematic Theology." I have not objection to Heidegger's formation of an existential phenomenology based on secularized Christian categories, and I agree that Macquarrie and Tillich are questionable when they seem to introduce such secularization into theology itself, something Heidegger would not have been happy with.

"For the Nazi theologians -- Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch -- "Christ" was reinterpreted to mean the "spirit of National Socialism." In fact, dring the Nazi regime in Germany, Hedegger himself affiliated his vision, which John D. Caputo, following Emmanuel Levinas, describes as a "totalizing ontology," with the totalitarian vision of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich." This shows "how disconnected any such secularized existential theology can become from the historical realities of the Judeo-Christian tradition." True, but irrelevant.

"So what is existentialism, exactly? What animates it? Can this question be answered without distinguishing atheistic from Christian existentialism?" Again, this is rather irrelevant. The categories of "Being and Time" have been recycled in both Christian and atheist philosophies. My own overcoming of metaphysics in theology is based ont he later Heidegger, more a thinker of being than an existentialist, and it does not draw directly on any Heideggerian category but follows the "analogy of proportion" recommended to theologians by Heidegger -- that is, the dynamics of forgetting and its overcoming apply in theology not to being but to the event of revelation, for which the categories of being are not a suitable language.

"Existential theologians tend to view the world in terms of two levels -- the objective and the subjective. On the objective level, like their atheistic counterparts, they tend to accept the account offered by a naturalistic world view, which excludes the supernatural, shutting the lid on the universe, as it were. Hence, the meaningful dimensions of the Christian Faith are nowhere to be found on that level. On that level, the Bible is viewed as an entirely human book, full of errors and subject to ineluctable skepticism. If the essence of existentialism lies in the attempt to transcend nihilism, then how do Christian existentialists propose this be done? The answer, again, is through subjectivity. In other words, the only meaning available is going to be that encountered on the level of subjective experience. Hence, while denying that the miracles mentioned in the Bible ever objectively happened, existential theologians affirm that miracles may happen as part of the "phenomena" of our personal experience. The "Jesus of History" may be a rotted corpse somewhere in Palestine. But the "Christ of Faith" is alive in our hearts and in the life-changing experiences within the believing "kairos" community. Existentialist theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth (if we read him carefully) are replete with such suggestions." Blosser correctly identifies my phenomenology of Christian experience as Barthian, and I can only suggest he reread the first volume of the Church Dogmatics for a defence of the objectivity of the encounter with the Word of God, which cannot be reduced to mere subjectivism.

"What he wants is a Christ of Faith who is freed from the constraints of the Jesus of History -- a Christ who lives in our subjective personal experience in a rich and meaningfully-felt way in the collective experience of the community of believers -- not a Christ who is dogmatically linked to the Jesus of history by "fundamentalist literalism" about such things as the Incarnation ("Jesus is God") or the Resurrection ("Jesus was bodily raised in space and time") or His claims about everlasting punishment and about nobody being able to come to the Father "but by me" (Jn 14:6)." The dissociation of the Christ of Faith from the Jesus of History is a heresy for which I have no sympathy whatever. Blosser wants to smuggle in a literalism about the Jesus of history here and to make this the criterion of recognizing the integrity of the Incarnation.

"His immediate strategy is to exploit the Chalcedonian opposition to docetic and monophysite heresies (which denied the full humanity of Jesus) in order to assert that our obligation to embrace the full humanity of Jesus requires us to think of Him as something less than fully God, or, more precisely, of His human nature as not fully informed by His divine nature." It is true that I attempt to do justice to the adoptionistic language of some New Testament texts, but ultimately I hold, based on John 1.14, that the historical Jesus is nothing less than the entry of the Logos into human history and that it would be futile to seek any aspect of that history that is not informed by this.

"O'Leary cites Aquinas as an example of a scholastic who, he thinks, fails to do justice to the full humanity of Jesus. This can be seen, according to O'Leary, in Aquinas ascribing to Jesus the "the capacity to see in the Word all that the Word sees." It's interesting that O'Leary refers to "Jesus" (= Historical Jesus) here, and not "Christ" (= "Christ of Faith"), although I suspect that, if pressed, he would accommodate some flexibility in language here, if not of conceptualization. It's also interesting that he describes Aquinas as ascribing to Jesus "the greatest knowledge and power possible in a creature" (emphasis added). I suppose this is only carelessness, as I would hope O'Leary would not go so far as to suggest that the Jesus of History was a "creature," in Arian fashion; but the slip, if it is a slip, is an interesting one." Here Blosser seems to commit a howler. The human nature of Jesus is of course created, and Aquinas speaks of it in this way.

" Third, O'Leary says that "historical scholarship," by which he means the secularized protestant historical-critical tradition of biblical studies, "has allowed us to recover Jesus as a human being sharing the cognitive limitations of his culture." " It is false to call this secularized and protestant; the historical-critical method is also embraced by Catholic exegesis; see the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 1994.

"It helps us take in our stride the possibility that the human Jesus may have erred, due to the limitations of the framework of his eschatological thinking; such errors could include not only the Naherwartung [the expectation of an imminent return of Christ] (Mk 9:1; Mt 10:23), but the elements in his teaching that gave rise to anti-Jewish supersessionist doctrine (Mk 12:9) and notions of eternal punishment. (p. 4)
So whatever may be said of the pre-incarnate Word, the Jesus of History is a fallible human being, whose possible errors may have included not only errors in judgment about the timing of His second coming, but theological errors in his teachings concerning the relation of His Gospel to Judaism and the doctrine of hell." Such suggestions are excluded by the "communicatio idiomatum" Blosser says. But the communicatio idiomatum cannot override the limits of Jesus's human nature. Jesus is, say, omniscient as God not as man. The medieval slogan that what the Word has by nature the human mind of Jesus has by grace, erroneously attribute to St Ambrose, must be questioned.

Spirit of Vatican II

The next substantial criticism of Blosser is based on attributing to me the views of Dominic Crossan:

I wrote: "Yet however subtly one expounds Chalcedon -- at the risk, indeed, of making it a wax nose --, people will object: Is it not enough to say that in Jesus we encounter the living God? The pursuit of the ontological grounds of this encounter seems epistemologically dubious and has divisive and alienating effects. Moreover, others may experience God's self-disclosure just as definitively elsewhere. 'Jesus was and is divine for those who experience in him the manifestation of God ...' writes J.D. Crossan, in Who Killed Jesus (San Francisco, 1996), p. 216."

Blosser comments: "Note what is being asserted here [by CROSSAN, not by me] -- (1) the limitations of Chalcedon; (2) the supplanting of those limitations via the objection raised in preference for a personal "encounter" with the living God (here the existential primacy of subjective experience surfaces); (3) the negative judgment on the Chalcedonian-inspired pursuit of the (objective metaphysical) "ontological grounds" of this (subjective) "encounter" as "epistemologically dubious" and having "divisive and alienating effects." What O'Leary has in mind here is the "divisive and alienating effects" of asserting that the living God is encountered in His fullness solely in the unique person of Jesus of Nazareth. (4) this is confirmed by his assertion [no, CROSSAN's] that God's self-disclosure is "experienced" by others (non-Christians) "just as definitively elsewhere," and by the quotation from Crossan, which asserts the subjectivistic sophomorism that "Jesus was and is divine for those who experience in him the manifestation of God." Thus, the classic existential patter of disconnection between subjectivity and objectivity becomes apparent -- the disconnection between (a) the experienced subjective Christ encountered in non-rational, personal faith and (b) the objective Christ defined by dogmatic tradition so as to link Him ineluctably to the empirical Jesus of history, who is open to rational investigation." OF COURSE I do not subscribe to the idea that the divinity of Christ means only that "Christ is divine for me". This blithe ascription to me of Crossan's views shows how carelessly Blosser has read me.

Indeed, I go on immediately to REJECT Crossan's reductionist view: "To show why Chalcedon may validly make a stronger claim than this today, we need to step back to the biblical sources, showing that they made Chalcedon necessary in the Greek metaphysical context, and that even when this context is overcome they continue to prompt accounts of Jesus which find his ultimate identity in the fact that he is the enfleshment of divine self-disclosure." Blosser does not even bother to quote this. Perhaps my style of writing is too soft-spoken for him. He misses the fact that the entire essay is intended to overcome such dismissals of Chalcedon as Crossan represents.

Spirit of Vatican II

"When O'Leary speaks of rerooting Chalcedon in the "encounter with Christ," then, it is pertinent to ask what he means. Perhaps it is even pertinent to ask why he uses such an emotionally charged expression as "encounter with Christ," with all of its predictable nuances and pavlovian responses. The answer is not hard to guess. His readers will be principally of two types, those who are ignorant of his existentialist theological presuppositions and those who are not. He knows that the former may very well be unwittingly swayed by their conditioned responses to think that they are here being guided by a good shepherd out of the wasteland of frigid and barren dogma back to a warm and living relationship with J-e-s-u-s! Thus he may hope that they will be won over to the view that his revisionist Christology is simply a more biblically faithful Christology, one that will yield a racheted-up "for real" relationship with Christ such as Kierkegaard described under the rubric of existential "contemporaneity." As to those who know where O'Leary is coming from, either they will find themselves in agreement with his pretheoretical commitments, or they will not. In the former case, such expressions as "encounter" are simply code for a revisionist reinterpretation of Christianity at work here, which O'Leary knows will be readily embraced. In the latter case, as in our own, where the reader knows where O'Leary is coming from but is unsympathetic, O'Leary realizes he has no hope of making his case, and he has little recourse but to respond, if he so chooses, with ad hominem attacks on his opponent's character, or bias, or the like. But let us see for ourselves how O'Leary endeavors to execute his proposed task of "rerooting" Chalcedon in an existential "encounter with Christ.""

Encounter is a category much used in theology -- Emil Brunner for example -- and even in the philosophy of truth -- Karl Jaspers for example. It is leveled against the positivist notion of truth and of revelation that Blosser also rejects. The point that there is no secure knowledge of God or of Christ without the dimension of encounter is not just a pious idea but one of fundamental theological significance.


"Metaphysics must be "overcome," he says [and get this] "as the thinking of faith finds its proper path." (p. 6) [Ever the master of subterfuge, O'Leary will find every possible opportunity to couch his denaturing revisionism in the pious language of an ever more authentic recovery of faith.]" Perhaps the word "proper", which I use in the Latin sense of "own", is misleading here. Theology is all about the purification and clarification of faith, so I fail to see why such heavy sarcasm is necessary.

" He distinguishes four trends of "hermeneutical awareness that converge to impose this overcoming" -- (1) phenomenality, (2) pluralism, (3) historicity, and (4) epistemological limits. Translated into what they actually mean, as I will show, these become: (a) subjectivism, (b) relativism, (c) historicism, and (d) skepticism." Four realities are replaced here by four caricatures.

"faith is grounded in an encounter with God in Christ and only secondarily in dogmatic formulae." Notice the subjectivism implied in this statement. The existential "encounter" (something by definition subjective) is what grounds faith. And what it then means to say that dogmatic formulae are "secondary," if anything at all, is thrown into radical question by the decided subjectivity of the existential encounter."

No, an encounter is not merely subjective, as Barth and Heidegger among others have very persuasively shown.

Blosser now "fisks" one paragraph as follows; I place my own counter-fisking in BLOCK CAPITALS:


"Dogmas mark certain logical constraints which must be respected in order to guard the integrity of the encounter [Careful here! It looks like the subjectivism of the encounter is being protected by the logical constraints of dogma here, but watch!], but they do not provide a foundation or synthesis superior to or equal to the biblical events themselves. [Caution! Dogma is said to guard the subjective encounter, but isn't more fundamental than the biblical events themselves. Well, of course. Vatican II states that the Magisterium is a servant rather than a master of the Word of God, but take care to note what is meant here by O'Leary, who is no friend of the Magisterium and considers his own interpretation of the Word of God a viable, if not preferable, alternative to Rome's. SO FAR NO CRITICISM EXCEPT A SWEEPING DECLARATION ABOUT MY ALLEGED ATTITUDE TO THE MAGISTERIUM] Metaphysical theology is built on a reversal of this priority of revelation over dogma. [OK, so does O'Leary mean metaphysics sees itself as sitting in judgment on Revelation in contradiction to the declaration of the Fathers of Vatican II? Keep an eye on the expression "metaphysical theology" in his essay, because this is what O'Leary hates, and it's thoroughly Roman Catholic!] In the space of thought it projects, the truths of faith are no longer grounded in encounter but in stable definitions and substances. [N.B. -- What emerges here is that O'Leary is contrasting (1) logic and dogma to (2) Revelation and encounter. This means that the concept of "Revelation" operative here is a distinctively existential concept of non-propositional, and therefore non-logical and non-rational, just as Revelation is subjective, personal, non-rational, non-logical, occurring as an event in an existential encounter. He does not explicitly point this out, but he does not need to. The contrast is clear: dogma, in his view, is logical and rigid, ossified, cold, and frigid, just as Revelation is warm, personal, and emotional -- the kind of thing that evokes hot tub imagery. AGAIN THIS IS CARICATURE: the priority of revelation over dogma is a priority of thinking based on encounter over propositional dogmatic formulations; but I do not contest the truth and necessity of the latter, I UPHOLD THEM; it is a matter of establishing a lucid perspective] In seeking to clarify the biblical events by asking first and foremost for reasons and grounds and by setting them within a doctrinal system, it overleaps both the pneumatic and the fleshly phenomenality of these events, which are no longer free to deploy their significance in the space opened up by scripture and its ongoing interpretation. (emphasis added) [And here we have it, folks -- the dream of dissident Catholic Bible scholars since Vatican II has been that the open horizon of endless possible new ways of interpreting and requisitioning Scripture could provide them with an authority alongside and independent -- if not superior -- to that of the official Magisterium, by virtue of the fact that the latter is bound to a single irreformable apostolic tradition. [THE BIBLE IS THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH, BUT THIS DOES NOT AT ALL UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE AND NECESSARY ROLE OF THE MAGISTERIUM; Blosser takes the establishment of priorities as the negation of what is placed in a secondary position; this is bad logic.] Regardless of how this apostolic tradition may be deepend by the growing understanding of the Church through time, by what Cardinal Newman called the organic "development" of doctrine, to be distinguished from heretical deformations of innovations by seven "notes" (or tests) that he specified, this tradition of understanding is not amenable to the radical revisibility of the kind O'Leary would like to see. [NO ARGUMENT IS PROVIDED!] As Peter Kreeft says, "The Catholic Church claims less authority than any other Christian church in the world; that is why she is so conservative. Protestant churches feel free to change 'the deposit of faith' (e.g., by denying Mary's assumption, which was believed from the beginning [NOT QUITE]) or of morals (e.g., by allowing divorce, even though Christ forbade it [NOT QUITE -- see the Matthean exception and the Pauline privilege and the Petrine privilege]), or worship (e.g., by denying the Real Presence and the centrality of the Eucharist, which was constant throughout the Church's first 1,500 years)." Questions framed within a Greek metaphysical horizon, oriented to substantial identity, would not need to, and could not, be formulated in a thinking of revelation oriented to events and processes. [Note the contrast here between "substantial identity" -- the former negative, the latter positive, in O'Leary's world of paternalistic revisionism.] Speculative construction would be stymied at the question stage by the impossibility of casting off the narrative vesture of biblical revelation in order to define the event in abstraction from its inexhaustibly pluralistic historical texture. [In this florid declamation, whose postmodern fluidity is surpassed only by its textured impenetrability of Derridada, O'Leary suggests the non sequitor that the "event" revealed in Scripture, because of its "inexhaustibly pluralistic historical texture," is incapable of yielding a "speculative construction" that can do justice to the "narrative vasture of biblical revelation." But this is nonsense. While it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words and that reality is always inexhaustably more complex than any propositional account of it, it is nonsense to suggest that a proposition or a "speculative construction" cannot render an intelligible account of it or that metaphysical or dogmatic theology cannot render an intelligible and faithful account of the event disclosed in biblical Revelation. That has been the task of dogmatic theology since St. Paul exemplified it in I Corinthians 15.] SPECULATIVE CONSTRUCTION ALWAYS FALLS BEHIND THE RICH TEXTURE OF NARRATED EVENT AND CANNOT TOTALLY RECUPERATE IT. THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT SUCH CONSTRUCTION DOES NOT HAVE A NECESSARY AND LEGITIMATE FUNCTION.


Spirit of Vatican II


2. Pluralism (i.e., relativism): "The biblical events come to us in a plurality of experiences, languages, literary genres, conceptual frameworks, and cultural contexts," notes O'Leary. However, "Metaphysical theolgy proceeds from a falsifying unification of these data under a homogeneous framework. Taking a view from above on the variety of biblical languages … [its] ambition is to be the definitive, objective language which integrates all others. But it turns out to be but one more language, equally subject to historical and cultural plurality which cannot be ironed out." Therefore: "Even when the Church hs agreed on one dogmatic formula and maintained it through the centuries, the specific explanations of the formula … have never admitted of reduction to a single framework. Full recognition of this pluralism greatly limits the role that metaphysical speculation can play in the clarification of Christian truth."

Blosser comments: "This reminds me of the sophomoric student who in his introductory philosophy class raised his hand eagerly in the midst of a class debate about moral relativism and declared with all the satisfaction of having offered a sublimely conclusive rebuttal, "But professor, that's just your opinion!" Whether we're talking about languages or doctrinal formulations, such a view takes no account of any differences between opinions that may be wise or stupid, or between views proclaimed by lawfully ordained successors of Peter or by mere ideologues." ON THE CONTRARY, the validity of classical doctrinal refutations is fully taken aboard in my theology; I very often say that it is futile to seek to contradict any classical doctrine on its own terrain. My point is rather to reveal the prior context of dogma and thus free the terrain for rethinking it in contemporary terms.


3. Historicity (i.e., historicism): "All of the cultural frameworks within which Christian truth is articulated belong to limited historical epistemological contexts. They become to a large degree obsolescent and inaccessible when new contexts supervene. The metaphysics which attempts to isolate essential structures and foundations is itself a historically contextualized formation…. Full recognition of the historicity of theological thought makes us conscious that such notions as 'nature' and 'hypostasis' or any modern equivalent thereof are culture-bound constructs and provisional conventions. They may be aids to insight in certain contexts, but since they cannot be purged of historical relativity they refer us back to an ongoing activity of understanding that never halts in a definitive systematization."

Blosser comments: "This is both true and false, depending on what one means. Everything O'Leary says here is true in the sense that anything said or written in any language is a historical-cultural artifact relative to a time and place in history. It is also true that our human efforts at understanding are always provisional and piecemeal and never exhaustive or comprehensive. But it is not true that nothing said or written in human language cannot be absolutely true and known to be so. The Chalcedonean formulation may never allow us with any certainty to specify the positive content of what is affirmed in the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity of Christ. Yet,, as with any dogmatic formula, it offers us absolute certainty as to what orthodoxy denies: without a shred of doubt, it allows us to know that a categorial denial of Christ's humanity or divinity is unconditionally false. Is there any part of this that is obsolescent or inaccessible, any part of this that we cannot clearly understand?" I REPLY: The rule is formulated in respect to the understanding of "Christ's humanity" and "Christ's divinity" and of "humanity" and "divinity" current in the fifth century. The validity of the rule certainly stretches across history, but its full realization is not just an automatic matter, it involves constant reflection on the meaning of humanity and divinity and of what the humanity and divinity of Christ signify.

4. Epistemological limits (i.e., skepticism): O'Leary accepts the canard that metaphysics has become untenable since the critiques of Kant and Wittgenstein. UNTENABLE AS THE UNQUESTIONED GOVERNING FRAMEWORK OF ALL THINKING. I THINK METAPHYSICS HAS TO BE KEPT IN ITS DUE PLACE. He therefore believes that the truth of Christianity "has to be retrieved independently of the metaphysical frameworks which provided a stable background at the time the doctrines were formulated." In other words, the Christian Faith must no longer be saddled with the "inherently dubious" and now discredited tradition of western theological metaphysics. I SAY THAT ANY GIVEN METAPHYSICS IS INHERENTLY DUBIOUS AS A GOVERNING FRAMEWORK, AND SHOULD NOT BE MADE INTRINSIC TO THE ARTICULATION OF CHRISTIAN FAITH.

"the Nicene prohibition of denial of Christ's true divinity remains in force, but a positive definition of what this "true divinity" means becomes elusive; at best it becomes another rule of speech: "what is said of the Father as God must be said of the Son as God." Within a certain conceptual horizon, a certain language-game, such rules impose themselves, but the absolute necessity and validity of such a take on the divine may remain open to question.... This dogmatic minimalism undercuts the arrogance of a christological discourse that would directly speak of divine and human natures and hypostases, as matters of objective knowledge, obliging it to be rephrased in a tentative and hypothetical mode: "if we were to choose to speak in this archaic and rather problematic style, then this is what we would be obliged to say." [And this] apparent enfeeblement of dogma in fact renders it more functional and effective, calling it to its role as defender of revelation, and preventing it from becoming the foundation of an alternative system of Christian truth in rivalry with the order of events that unfolds from Scripture." BLOSSER COMMENTS: Note again the irony as well as the presumption: the "enfeeblement" of dogma (i.e., Rome) renders it more effective in defending Revelation (i.e., the existentially encountered "Christ event" experienced in subjective inwardness). I SAID THAT THE APPARENT ENFEEBLEMENT IS IN FACT A STRENGTHENING OF DOGMA.

As an example of my dogmatic minimalism (in the spirit of Newman) Blosser quotes: "Orthodoxy as regards the Trinity is satisfied with the recognition of some kind of objective distinction in God between God, Word and Spirit .... But the elaborate superstructures built on this in speculative trinitarian theology need to be dismantled if the original core of dogma and its necessity are to be brought into view. Ortodoxy as regards the Incarnation is satisfied with the assertion that the final meaning of Jesus is inseparable from the divine Word. The personality of the human Jesus and the personality of the divine Word cannot be one and the same, since an infinite abyss separates human personality from what we project as divine personality. The identity of Jesus and the Word has to be rethought in terms of event and process, as a coincidence of the human historical adventure of Jesus with the revelational activity of God. To encounter the risen Christ in faith is to encounter the divine Word .... But since the divine nature cannot be mingled with the human or subject to change ... Jesus is free to be integrally human, with all that this entails."

Blosser's critique: "What would be the yield of a rich Heideggerian biblical hermeneutical poker game such as O'Leary envisions? Hold on to your wallets my friends, and watch his eyes as he speaks: "When we recall Chalcedon to its biblical basis," he begins . . . [Note carefully the pious-sounding hubris here: an Ecumenical Council whose deliberations the Church holds to have been guided, like those of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28), by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, is declared by O'Leary to be "recalled to its biblical basis," as though that God-breathed (GK. theopneustos) product of divine guidance (Holy Scripture) could contradict the decrees of the Ecumenical Council." I ABSOLUTELY NEVER CLAIM THAT SCRIPTURE CONTRADICTS CHALCEDON. I TALK OF REGROUNDING CHALCEDON IN SCRIPTURE, AND RETRIEVING A FULLER SCRIPTURAL VISION THAT CHALCEDON DEFENDS BUT THAT SLAVISH REPETITION OF THE CATEGORIES OF CHALCEDON CAN OCCLUDE.

" There is nothing shocking in the least here for O'Leary, of course, because he does not believe for a moment that either the inscripturated words of the biblical writers or of the authors of conciliar decrees are anything more than a wax nose to be bent (or "nuanced") as he (O'Leary) sees fit. The "authority" of any of these written words is a convenience that may be appealed where they can be used to support his own agenda and ignored where they do not.]" WILD ALLEGATIONS.

Spirit of Vatican II

[So what is important about Jesus Christ is no longer the "artificially isolated individual," the historical Jesus who lived and died, and, according to tradition, is also the Christ of faith who rose again for us. No, what is important is that which is distinguishable from this "artificially isolated individual" and historical Jesus, which is incarnate in the whole historical community of Israel -- something much larger than just one man, even the man Jesus Christ. What is larger and more important than this "artifically isolated individual" is the "pneumatic presence" of the Christ of faith, as distinguished from that isolated and relatively unimportant Jesus of history (whoever he was), because this is what is alive and living in the collective spirit of the community in its encounter with the living Word of God (which -- lovely! -- means just about whatever we want it to mean). And by no means should it be supposed that this Christ of faith continues to dwell among us through some sort of "monstrous metaphysical paradox" as, for instance, would be required in supposing that He was really bodily there in the consecration, the Blessed Sacrament, or in the Tabernacle. All that's so much "hocus pocus," really (which, of course, is a protestant corruption of the Latin words of consecration: Hoc est …corpus meum -- "This is my body"), and it's good that we modern or postmodern Catholics are done with such medieval superstitious nonsense. Thus O'Leary suggests here.]

Not at all. To say that: "The divinity manifest in the creative Wisdom through which the world was made and in the Torah through which the holy community of Israel was assembled is now manifest in a more fleshly, historical form, in and across the entire career of Jesus." It is not Jesus as an artificially isolated individual, but Jesus in the entire extent of his connections with Jewish tradition and his ongoing pneumatic presence within the community as the "firstborn of many brethren" (Rom. 8:29), who is the enfleshment of God's creative, revelatory Word. God made Godself known in Israel" is not to deny the incarnation and the real presence but to contextualize them and reveal their full force as expressing the dynamics of the biblical "God who comes".

"What is new about the new Covenant, says O'Leary, is not the presence of the Word, which was living and active from the beginning, but rather the role of the flesh in a more intimate presence with us." Which is what John 1.1-18 says.

"Rather than a once-for-all ontological conjunction, somewhat magically and fetishistically located at the moment of Christ's conception, can we not think of incarnation as the transformation of this human life, in all its extensions, into manifestation of God, just as in the Eucharist ...?" he asks. [Why does O'Leary favor understanding the incarnation as transformation of "this human life" of Jesus, analogously to the Eucharist, rather than as understood traditionally in the moment of His conception, which he dismisses as somewhat magical and fetishistic? The answer is that existential theologians cannot wrap their minds around the motion that the Christ of Faith might also be the Jesus of History. In the neo-Kantian tradition, they split off values from facts, the noumenal from the phenomenal; and since the Jesus of History, on their reckoning, is just a fallible human being whose bones are mouldering somewhere in Palestine, he surely cannot be identified as the Christ of Faith. Hence, if there is an Incarnation at all, on their view, it must be a "transformation" -- like the Eucharist -- without residue: the Incarnate Christ is a docetic Christ, a gnostic Christ a divine Christ with no human residue. This answer would seem provide yet another means for O'Leary and Company to pry loose their own dreamy vision of what constitutes divine "Incarnation" within a human community from the orthodox magisterial understanding of what Christ's incarnation means." I THINK MY REMARKS COULD MORE VALIDLY BE SEEN AS ANTI-DOCETIC AND AS MARKING THE TENSE CONJUNCTION OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS AND THE DIVINE LOGOS IN THE HYPOSTATIC UNION.

"This more open-textured interpretation of incarnation attenuates the clash between the Christian claims and non-Christian religions, for the incarnation of God in Christ continues to unfold along the paths of historical, fleshly contingency as his Gospel and his pneumatic presence are redeployed in different cultures, and enter into dialogue with other historical apprehensions of divine presence in the world" (p. 11, emphasis added). [Here is what O'Leary really wants, you see -- for "the incarnation of Christ" to be translatable into "other historical apprehensions of divine presence in the world." Let me simplify: for Christians, there is J-e-s-u-s; for Buddhists, there is B-u-d-d-h-a. Either one is simply another name for what Christians have called the "Incarnation" -- NO, I DID NOT SAY THAT AT ALL. THE INCARNATION IS UNIQUE BUT IT CAN RELATE TO OTEHR APPREHENSIONS OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE -- pretty much the teaching of VATICAN II and of JOHN and JUSTIN MARTYR viz., a culturally relative apprehension of the divine (whatever that really means) by yet another fallible people among the family of multicultural human peoples. To this extent O'Leary is Hegelian: there is no vantage point outside the river of history from which an absolute judgment about any historical "truth" may be rendered. To this extent O'Leary is Feuerbachean: anything we say about God and His truth is only by way of subjective projection. NO, I TALK OF SITUATED TRUTH AND OF CONVENTIONAL RELIGIOUS LANGUAGES AS VEHICLES OF ULTIMACY. I USE HEGEL AND FEUERBACH IN THE SERVICE OF UPHOLDING THE OBJECTIVITY OF DOCTRINAL LANGUAGE -- SEE "RELIGIOUS PLURALISM AND CHRISTIAN TRUTH", CHAPTER 3-4. In short, to put the matter crassly: we're screwed. We're just a bunch of individuals sitting around talking to ourselves. There is no Word of God that has broken through the scrim of heaven to divulge any infallible truth to us. There is only "encounter" with the ineffably "divine," which is usually a touchy-feely way of pretending to know what you're talking about when you're talking nonsense and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your audience before fleecing them.] ALL THIS IS CAPRICIOUS PROJECTION FROM BLOSSER.

"he believes what historical Christianity offers is only one relative instance of what can be also found among many other religions." NO, I stress the uniqueness of the incarnation and the eschatological primacy of Christ -- see "Religious Pluralism and Christian Truth" ch. 7.

" The Judeo-Christian tradition, whatever its claims to special revelation, has no monopoly on truth." Of course.

" the Incarnation is "a cipher for a more subtle, historically textured disclosure process which is intimately linked with the broader web of human evolution." " OF COURSE the Incarnation can be sighted in evolutionary context as Rahner and Teilhard urge.

"The trick is to eschew the arrogant posture of certitude and remain "vulnerable," "open" to infinite possibilities. In truth, it may not so much be that the Buddhist is an "anonymous Christian," as Karl Rahner once suggested, groping in ignorance towards what is made explicit only in Christ; but rather, that the Christian, bowing before the Incarnation, is an "anonymous Buddhist," groping in ignorance toward the truth of Buddhism that he who knows does not speak and he who speaks does not know, and that all is ultimately empty (Sunyata), since everything is Mind and Mind is no-thing, and the self is no-thing, and there is ultimately no nirvana because there is no self to attain it and because nirvana is, after all, no-thing and therefore nothing to be attained.]" False dualisms here.

"The step back from Chalcedon to Paul and John has to be followed by a further step back to earlier understandings of Jesus, including his own self-understanding." What does this mean? It means that we shouldn't take the Church's word for who Jesus Christ is. We need to step back from the dogmatic Christ of creed and tradition and examine the living faith of Paul and John in their New Testament writings -- a step away from dogmatic definition and towards the living fluidity of subjectively experienced "event" and "process," in O'Leary's paradigm. NO, CHALCEDON ITSELF POINTS BACK TO THE NEW TESTAMEN. ANOTHER FALSE DUALISM HERE.

"But a theologia gloriae which misses the broken, all-too-human texture wherein we are given intimations -- 'hints and guesses' (Eliot) -- of the divine glory, or which stylizes this fleshly texture into a sacralized icon, undermines the reality of the divine assumption of humanity in Christ" "Reference to the historical reality of Jesus before the post-Easter interpretations provides an invaluable critical resource over against the entire christological tradition, preventing it from balooning off into vacuous idealism." Setting aside the implication that the whole Catholic christological tradition has presumably "balooned off into vacuous idealism" in theologies of glory NOT ALWAYS, BUT SOMETIMES and incarnation NO! TRUE THEOLOGIES OF INCARNATION ARE THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT I AM WARNING AGAINST, it may be wondered how "the historical reality of Jesus before the post-Easter interpretations" arose are to be accessed. Conceding the difficulty, O'Leary valiantly endeavors to make a virtue of necessity: "The very difficulty of such a reference, the uncertainty and obscurity of the enterprise, can [note the irony] free our faith from a narrow positivism of facts as much as from a blithe confidence in theological portraits of Jesus" . So ignorance and uncertainty has the virtue of freeing faith from the cumbersome world of facts, as well as from blithe confidence in the post-Easter theological portraits given us by St. Paul and Catholic Tradition. One can't help but be impressed at O'Leary's ebullience over such sublime nonesense. Freedom from fact! Freedom from certainty! Freedom apparently to believe in anything! I AM NOT AGAINST THE FACTS, BUT THEY ARE ELUSIVE, AND THIS IS PROVIDENTIAL AS WE WOULD CLUTCH AT THEM FOR DEAR LIFE AS FUNDAMENTALISTS DO AT THEIR PSEUDO-FACTS.

"But if he wants us to give up our mythical "imaginings of Jesus," O'Leary also understands that we cannot simply cease these imaginings by a return to the "bare facts about Jesus," for as he notes, "these come clothed in religious interpretation from the start ...." Thus, he writes: "Even the earliest interpretations of Jesus, by himself and his disciples, are subject to historical contextualization and critical reassessment. There was an abundance of mythic schemata to draw on, and their application to Jesus was a human interpretive activity, however much it may have been led by the Spirit .... Since Christology is so much a product of the mythic frameworks then available, the retrieval of its truth for today demands a radical reinterpretation". So we can't separate myth from fact or fact from myth, and therefore we must radically reinterpret the "truth" of the Christ myth (whatever that may be) for today. By what canons of veracity and interpretation, he does not say, though it's clear that it can't be the "bare facts about Jesus," because he knows that positivistic ideal is humanly unattainable." Blosser agrees with me here that myth-free facts are largely inaccessible, but does not offer his own hermeneutic alternative.

" So it must lie in some contemporary existentialist criteria O'Leary thinks is available to him and others, though he doesn't spell out what they might be." On the contrary, I spell out quite a lot -- drawing on the biblical repertory as retrieved in the living faith of the Church today in critical overcoming and retrieval of tradition and in openness to Buddhist categories.

"But O'Leary is adamant: all reduces to myth, which must be demythologized. It will not do to substitute Hebrew myth for Hellenistic myth: "The obsolescence of Hellenistic myth does not entail any rejuvenation of Hebrew myth. The task of REARTICULATING IN CONTEMPORARY CATEGORIES what the ancients envisaged in mythic terms is even more daunting in this case, for however refreshing we may find the older biblical representations by contrast with stale Hellenistic notions, it is the latter that harmonize with the tracks of thought most familiar in Western culture.... A reappropriation of the Jewish mythical categories in an existential translation ... may challenge theology to break out of its Hellenistic rut, but it will also cut a swath through the over-abundance of mythological motifs in the Gospels". Myth, myth, everywhere, and not a drop to drink! Where is the thirsting soul to turn? NOTE THE PHRASE IN BLOCK CAPITALS.

O'Leary concludes: "We begin to see that the historical, Jewish fleshly existence of Jesus is the locus of his unique revelatory and salvific status, and that it is a bridge rather than an obstacle as our tradition opens out to other major loci of divine disclosure, especially the Jewish and Buddhist traditions." The thirsting soul must probe beyond the facades of historical mythologies and mine the sources of Revelation itself in the warm hot tub of existential encounter. FACADES, NO; BUT A REPERTORY IN NEED OF CONTEMPORARY TRANSLATION.

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