Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let the Dead Bury the Dead: Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua

Giordano Bruno is dead, dead as a door-nail; so is any Catholic apologetic that seeks to spin his death at the hands of the Church as anything but the result of the sinfulness and ignorance of its sons' actions.

How many Cardinals does it take to burn a heretic? Regardless, Bruno was burned at the stake for his arrogance and narcissism, and, I suppose for the heresies of apocastasis-ism, pantheism, neo-Platonism, Arianism as well. He was probably not executed for his Copernican-ism. Just a terminal case of other "-isms."

Because the Church did not send too many heretics to the secular power for execution does not really put any exonerating perspective on it beyond what might be placed on the secular authorities that carried out the sentence of the tribunal. Bruno is dead; he would have been dead by now anyway. Still, the Church holds itself to a different standard. It does not like finding itself in historical constraints. It sometimes wants to be infallible where even Pio Nono could not anticipate such infallibility. Did Bruno sin? Yes. Was the penance just? No.

I find John Paul II of happy memory to have hit the mark regarding human foibles masquerading as Catholic truths: regret and sorrow, seeking forgiveness. The sorrow and regrets are sincere, and it is highly unlikely the Church, in its human, wayfaring dimensions, is likely to perpetrate such poor judgements again.

We are sorry. Our apology is either adequate or inadequate for those whose sensibilities are offended. Our regrets and apologies are sincere, real, authentic. In hope and humility we pray they are accepted.

Nonetheless, there are cynics among the offended who, in the absence of any new critique, revert to Bruno. The charges are disingenuous, and the responses do not dissolve their venom.

I think we should call it a draw and move on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Abundance of Grace, Amazing Grace

So much depends on grace.

 Grace is the unmerited free gift of God to creation, to human nature; it is God’s free gift of himself, his self-communication, his overture to his seekers. Seeking is the response to the absolute mystery that is God,  the response to the moment of the experience of the abyss, where one meets God, or its opposite. Seeking is the expression of supernatural existential, which is the religious and existential space open to receive grace (cf. K. Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith). A human being can die of thirst in the cool and fresh sea of grace, if, as the hearer of the message, the reader of the signature, he is closed off---deaf to the message, blind to the sign. The human creature must drink from this abundance of grace: grace must get inside; it must be transformed, translated. The limitless abundance of sufficient grace must be (re)created into amazing, efficacious grace in the human person.

 I recently presented grace as both the signature of God and as predisposition of the human person to that signature. I also located God outside of creation and spoke of his radical absence, his ‘already been  there.” The link between this absence and vanishing presence, and the negative capability of the human person to be imprinted by God’s self-communication is sacrament. Sacramentality is the living principle of Catholicism; it is the reality that creates grace, or at least transforms, or better, translates, grace to the human agent. Because sacrament is first and foremost a sign, the concept has the potential to speak to postmodern discourse inasmuch as structural linguistics is in dialogue with the postmodern and post-structural impulse. Despite the postmodern dilemma of the unfixed sign and the problem of the instability of meaning, we can nonetheless begin in the linguistic sign. Indeed, the comprehensibility of the sign, especially of our example of sacrament, forms the crux of the discussion. First a brief definition: the sign is composed of a signifier and a signified, that is, a sensory input and its evocation, in the case of language, the sound image and its associated concept. Saussure’s famous example in his Course in General Linguistics is that of the sign, or word,  ‘tree’: the signifier is the sound ‘t-r-ee’ and the signified the mental picture/concept of the biological entity. The notion of sacrament is not much more elaborate, except, perhaps, in that it often involves more than language: physical matter, not merely the sounds of language. Still, the overall intelligibility or success of signification drives the sacramental experience.

 At this point I will side-step the 7 Sacraments of the Catholic Church properly so-called, and address my final remarks to other sacraments or sacramentals that nonetheless mediate meaning in the world and perhaps comment on the meanings that mediate the world. In a word, how can God’s ‘radical absence’ be reconciled with his ‘hidden presence’? These dialectical oppositions resolve in the synthesis of sacramental presence. God’s signature, then, is the diacritic of his self-communication, and it graces nature with his sacramental presence. That presence is certainly a real presence whose reality is mediated by grace. This grace is a ‘created’ grace, for the uncreated grace of the divine circumincession can never be contained, or trapped, in nature, in space-time.

 In the postmodern turn, signification creates the sensible world: there is no world that is not brought into practical existence by language. And as such, the world is an unstable place, created as it is by signifiers and signifieds which seem to be fleeing the signs that unite them, making meaning a thing in flux, tenuous and uncertain. Catholicism averts such instability because it admits of the Logos that brings the world into being from nothing by the fiat of the ‘word.’ It is in the word that belief meets the postmodern critique which is always looking to the sacrament through its hermeneutic of suspicion,  ultimately seeking a hermeneutic of faith, looking to slake its thirst in a sea of grace, amazing grace.