Wonder

Wonder, in fact, was accepted so instinctively as essential to a human life that in the quarrels and discussions that centered on Christological doctrine there was an argument in favor of the full humanity of Christ which might be called “an argument from wonder“ … If Jesus could “marvel“, Aquinas says, we must suppose the presence of that which is capable of marvel, of the mens humana, the human mind, of the spiritual soul in addition to the presence of the Divine Word and the sensual soul (both of which are, as we have seen, not capable of “wonder“). Only a spiritual capacity for knowledge that does not know everything it knows at once and perfectly is capable of being gradually aware of the deeper and more essential world beyond the sensual, physical world – only the human spirit is capable of wonder.

Josef Pieper, The Philosophical Act (included in the Ignatius Press edition of Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

Note: While moderns tend to reject the divinity of Christ, for the ancients it was much harder to accept His humanity — that God would so sully himself as to take on humanity.

Kind of brings to mind “but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), doesn’t it?

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Rediscovering imaginary Mary

It’s Advent, drawing nigh to Christmas, so religion writers turn in desperation for new angles, giving this fan of the old angles an occasional case of the heebie-jeebies.

For instance, there’s something weird and a little creepy about Evangelicals trying to turn the Theotokos into some kind of Che Guevara figure when they stumble onto the continuation of the Magnificat after the first lines they’ve known. Here and here are examples. I first encountered both within the last 24 hours.

Fifty years ago, that sort of thing was scorned by Evangelicals as Liberation Theology, so I guess Evangelicals are on roughly their usual time-lag for adopting fads, turning Mary into a revolutionaryvehicle for Jesus,” on a long Uber drive from Heaven to Bethlehem, with some zesty direct action planned (politics is what it’s all about, right?) after she drops off her fare.

Bah! Humbug! Have these people no capacity for mystery?

GABRIEL

When Eve, in love with her own will,
Denied the will of Love and fell,
She turned the flesh Love knew so well
To knowledge of her love until
Both love and knowledge were of sin.
What her negation wounded, may
Your affirmation heal today;
Love’s will requires your own, that in
The flesh whose love you do not know,
Loves knowledge into flesh may grow.

MARY

My flesh in terror and fire
Rejoices that the Word
Who unites the world out of nothing,
As a pledge of His word to love her
Against her will, and to turn
Her desperate longing to love,
Should ask to wear me,
From now until their wedding day,
For an engagement ring.

GABRIEL

Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
To-day the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.

W.H. Auden, For the Time Being.

Now that is truly radical.

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While we’re on a Christmas theme, let me praise this little benediction snippet, attributed to the Church of Ireland and set to glorious, sappy music by Philip W.J. Stopford:

May Christ, who by His incarnation gathered into one all things earthly, all things heavenly, … fill you with joy and peace.

We Tenors get to sing that, and it usually kind of chokes me up.

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God became sarx

It’s a little-known fact that we Orthodox don’t celebrate Christmas. Sorta. We celebrate the Nativity according to the flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

I’ve been reminded several times within the past few days, months removed from Christmas, of the oddness of this expression according to the flesh, and even the crudeness of the terminology in the original language. God became sarx – meat; that’s the crude word that gets blanded down in English as “flesh.”

But first, a patristic snippet:

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star….

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

(St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”)

Imagine here my frequent disclaimer of being a theolgian.

The Church early on insisted on emphasizing the incarnation because it was true, it was scandalous, and a current heresy threatened to spiritualize Jesus away.

That era was shot through with gnostic dualism, wherein the flesh and spirit not only were separate, but the flesh was pretty base and embarrassing. Men were to transcend the flesh. Surely God would have nothing whatever to do with it. Apart from the Jews, few in that era even believed God had created this nasty, stinky old material world.

But flesh and spirit aren’t separate. We’re unified persons, and our personhood is inseparable from our bodies. That’s why Christians treat the body with respect. That’s at least part of why the Church historically has disallowed cremation.

(That’s even why marriage is gendered, not unisex. Men and women, moms and dads, are not fungible – but I’ll let someone else address that if you’re interested.)

So great is the dignity of human sarx that the second person of the Trinity, having assumed it (as celebrated at the Nativity according to the flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ), did not leave it behind when he ascended again to the Father.

He remains incarnate. The Incarnation is forever.

That is why Christian churches should, and some do, still celebrate the Ascension. It is difficult to imagine that those for whom God-in-the-Flesh, Theanthropos, acsending to God the Father in human flesh is no big deal, are adherents of the Christian faith in any serious sense.

Gnosticism has lingered for 2000 or more years. I guess the urge to think that it doesn’t matter what your body does so long as “your heart’s right” is damned near irresistible.

But there is no room for gnosticism in the Christian faith proper, even if it persists in Christendom. God becoming human sarx drove a silver stake through that monster’s heart.

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I wrote the material above before I began my Lenten reading, including Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s The Jesus We Missed. I suspect that before I’m done, I’ll wonder why I presumed to write anything so puerile as this.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.