Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BVM: Mary, The Mother of the Lord---Part III

The Blessed Virgin Mary, theotokos, is the difference that keeps on giving. As some readers have doubtless noticed, I have stolen part of the title of this blog mini-series from Karl Rahner's treatise, Mary, The Mother of the Lord (London, 1963). While I would not so boldly state, as Rahner does, that Mary as the mother of Jesus "implies the whole substance of Christian belief" (54), I would be far less reticent to agree with him that Mary's maternity transcends the biological dimension, and unites all Catholics in a "partnership" with God, as she models the acceptance of grace for all (12). Rahner's Mariology is intensely Christological, as well as ecclesiological, and imbued with his theology of grace. In this sense, Mary is the human side of the Church, which, when it is at its best, flatters her by imitation.

The Ave Maria, at once an intensely biblical and theological excursion, derives its content from Luke and the 3rd ecumenical council of Ephesus (convened in 431 to confirm the validity of the ancient honorific, theotokos). The prayer is felt by some to be the essential Catholic prayer, uniting, as it does, Christology and the human cooperation in the on-going creation of the world. The Angelus, a prayer celebrating the Incarnation and Mary's role in its history, is also quite biblical and theological. It emphasizes a bit more the intercessory role of Mary than the Ave, but the theme of Christ's saving work always keeps his sole-mediatorship of salvation clear. The Magnificat, Luke's little masterpiece, might very well be the perfect Catholic prayer:

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. (Luke 1:46-55, [KJV])

I deploy the King James Version for its sheer poetry, despite some archaisms. Luke, a master of the Septuagint, has created a truly inspired hymn that not only Catholicism, but all biblical faiths, and though not strictly biblical, Islam as well, can embrace. It could have been predicted that the liberation theologians would embrace the Magnificat as something of a manifesto, given how it situates Mary in her 'low estate' and 'puts down the mighty' and satisifies 'the hungry.' Perhaps it is the message of the Magnificat, that Islam has heard and felt, that brings it to its understanding of Mary with which I began this 3-part series.

I am neither a Marian maximalist nor minimalist, though my leaning is toward the latter. Despite a few historical chips on some papal shoulders, divisiveness can never be a role for Mary in the Church. Some are called to versions of Marian piety ordered to the life of the living Church (cf. Marialis Cultus, 1974). Others are called more to praxis, and still others are called to Mary as a reflection of themselves as authentic Christians, Christocentric believers, who demure from the niceties of speculative theologies of grace.

Finally, in light of this recent consideration of Mariology, I might review the placental turn that seems to drive things Marian. I first used the metaphor of the placenta to suggest the relation within the hypostatic union. The 'placental turn' might clarify the relation between the single divine person of the hypostatic union and his mother. Mary is united biologically to the placenta of the word made flesh. Like the presence of the Logos to the human that witnesses to the death of Jesus, Mary, in her body, witnesses to the unmerited grace within her that exposes itself to her, sanctifies her. Her sanctification therefore is through the eternal Word, which sanctifies her eternally. Through the very givenness of the Logos that takes maternal flesh from Mary, Mary is 'gifted,' just as those who receive the IM are 'gifted' through its very givenness. In terms of the event, the IM releases the event of grace in the reduction of Mary to her givenness to God, and God's givenness to her. Mary becomes, moves into her subjectivity and her selfhood, as God loves her before she is, because God loves before he is.

BVM: Mary, The Mother of the Lord---Part II

In our discussion on "Haunted," our interlocutor generously provided the key text of the promulgation of the Immaculate Conception (IM):

"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of Original Sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

—Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus

As I noted in the discussion that ensued,  we must bear in mind that the Marian dogmas are about Mary, not about us. They take nothing from us, and the de fide claims for Mary are not at our expense, our experience of grace or our relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church. We receive the dogmas as gifts, and we accept them as such or at our own theological peril. The IM in particular has far-reaching ramifications for the theology of grace and nature, and it underscores a difference in the economy of grace for Mary and the rest of us. But it is still the same grace, and we, too, in Baptism, become free from Original Sin (OS). Like Mary, we still answer to the effects of OS (i.e., suffering, death) regardless of the sanctifying grace sacramentally given to us, or the unmediated grace given to her.

Mariology is thoroughly christological: none of the Marian dogmas are intelligible or even remotely coherent apart from the Christ-event. All her uniqueness, singularity and privilege derive from her maternal relationship to Jesus. The IM in particular has always been understood in terms of her being the god-bearer, the mother of God,  the mother of the Lord. Only after a strong rooting in the fact of her motherhood of Jesus, can anything about Mary enter theology.

The Church views Mary as singularly different, privileged because she alone carried the Word made flesh inside her very body, her very person. Because the Christ-event itself is unique, so too, is Mary. Jesus could only have one historical mother. Her singularity anchors into that singular historical foundation for her attributes in dogmatic theology. She is full of grace because she bore within in her the very source of grace. Her singular experience of grace is visited upon her own conception in the divine proclamation of the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. Her conception in the divine imagination is in direct nexus with graced image and likeness enjoyed by the biblical characters, Adam and Eve: theologically speaking.


In is on this basis that most Catholics accept the Marian dogmas. Mary captures the Catholic imagination because she is experienced as a human phenomenon, certainly not the saturated phenomenon of the icon that bedazzles the intuition ducking the aim of intentionality, but perhaps as an idol, saturated by the reflection of the gaze of her fellow humans. This characterization likely explains the ease by which she so easily enters the s. fidei and s. fidelium. She is not divine, and like nature itself, is open to free inquiry and the freedom of the imagination. At every juncture, though, she opens the door to that saturated phenomenon par excellence, Christ; and that is the raison d'etre for her place in Catholic theology. She allows Christ to 'make sense' in the very world, the very history, which all Catholics inhabit. Mary's ''yes'' to God does not merit for her any special grace, for all grace is totally gratuitous and freely given by God alone (not to mention the inherent Pelagianism in such a thought). Rather, Mary's "yes" to God opens for Catholics access to the possibility of the impossible, a "yes" opens upon the horizon of sanctifying grace.

And yet, lest we fall into an unnecessary triumphalism, for those who struggle with the dogmas as Catholics, or for that matter, as atheists buttressing their arguments against the existence of God and the validity of Catholicism in particular and religion in general, we cannot dismiss the problems presented by the gymnastics of the theology of grace at work in the IM, or in the devotional logics of pdf. The trans-, or meta-historical workings of grace require a nuanced approach not always available to Catholics of conscience. The theodical elements of potuit, decuit, ergo fecit, will forever delight or torture thoughtful atheists, because each element challenges every claim made about the theistic God. 

The IM unifies the concept of grace as the totality of God's actus purus. Taken in its pure givenness, the IM enables the ''gifted'' with all humility to participate in the grace of God in a very complete way. Whether through the thorough-going Christology of the Angelus, or the Hallelujah of the Magnificat, Mary the idol, through the porosity of grace, always opens us up to icon of the Logos.

BVM: Mary, The Mother of the Lord---Part I

Chosen by God among all women to bear Jesus, whom she conceived miraculously as a virgin, Mary is honored, alone of all her sex, as one of only two persons (Jesus being the other) born untouched by Satan. She herself is the daughter of Joachim and Anna, and by at least one tradition, grew up in the Temple under the care of Zechariah. Gabriel announced to her that she would bear Jesus, a sign to all the world. Mary questioned the angel about the possibility of a virgin conceiving, and the astonished young maid was reassured that for God nothing is impossible. Because of these things she is remembered forever as an exemplar of faith, worship, and purity, of submission to the will of God, as singularly chosen, exalted mother of Jesus and Queen of all saints.

Such is the record, in the Quran, of Mary in the Islamic Tradition; she is the only woman in the Quran mentioned by name. Interestingly, she is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament. Of course, the Quran does not know of the divinity of Jesus, which would have detracted from the indivisible divinity of God. A divine Jesus is quite impossible in Islam; yet a maximalist Mariology is alive and well in Islam and its system of belief.

Recently in comments to this blog, the Marian dogmas in Catholicism have been cast as the "best" reason against the validity of Catholicism. Really, the "best?" One would think that the standard argument for atheism---theodicy---would have preemptively invalidated Catholicism (or any theistic system) without any further need of invalidation. But one needn't be an atheist to locate difficulties in the received dogmatic theology of Mary in Catholicism.

Putting aside the dogmas of the perpetual virginity and theotokos, the latest dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are pronounced from a thoroughly modern church and papacy. Since the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the bugaboo in the lengthy discussion in the 'comments' of "Haunted by the Holy Ghost," I would limit the content of this blogpost to that dogma and the gist of the conversation on "Haunted."

First I would point out that the modern Marian dogmas are each punctuated with a warning: any denial of them incurs upon the denier anathematization, and would be tantamount to a denial of the Catholic faith entire and a declaration that one is no longer a member of  the Catholic Church. Putting aside the ridiculous notion that a Catholic could put aside her unconditional preferential option for the Catholic faith by putting her conscience in relation to the dogmas, then the heart of the papal threats of excommunication is laid bare: it is not the content of the Marian dogmas that separates the Catholic from Catholicism, but the denial of papal infallibility. It is very likely that one could present her conscience to the Marian dogmas without fear of excommunication (the angelic doctor did the same regarding the Immaculate Conception (IM) and there is no posthumous excommunication of the author of the Summa), but papal infallibility is another matter entirely.

Interestingly, both the modern Marian declarations and the pronouncement on papal infallibility share the theological arguments that their authority and effectiveness is the Holy Spirit, and therefore their content is free of error in their matter of faith and morals. Since papal infallibility limits itself to faith and morals, so should we, in presenting the IM to our consciences, limit ourselves to the tenets of faith and morals. For, in fact, that is precisely what Pius IX and Pius XII did in promulgating the dogmas.

Quite simply, Pio Nono polled the Catholic world and found unanimity about the doctrine of the IM, which is one of the oldest beliefs about Mary. The early Franciscans citied the terse logic of the Scholastics in validating the celebration of the feast of the IM: potuit, decuit, ergo fecit (He[God] could do it, it was fitting that he do it, therefore he did do it.) The pope merely promulgated as de fide what was already entrenched in  the sensus fidei and sensus fidelium. For all that unanimity, why punctuate with a solemn threat? Was it fear that the polls were inaccurate or fickle? Probably not, since the very ideas of the sensus fidei and s. fidelium precluded such a possibility. Was it that the doctrinal expression of the transhistorical operations of grace was incoherent? Probably not, especially if the essentially devotional logic of pdf were still operational (they must have been). Was it that papal infallibility had entered the magisterium in its hottest configuration (and to be officially promulgated within Pius IX's reign, at Vatican I, 15 years after the IM) and was doing its own presenting to the consciences of the Catholic world? While the other explanations cannot be excluded with absolute certainty, this last reason seems the best explanation, especially in light of the signs of the times, informed by the loss of the papal states and a general state of siege inaugurated by what was perceived as the creep of modernity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Peter Rollins' Lack of Being and Total Depravity

Pete Rollins recently blogged about one of his Belfast events in which John Caputo was a guest. I responded to Pete's discussion of 'depravity' ("In Defense of Total Depravity") in the terms he brilliantly laid out, most notably lack, subjectivity, desire, being. I am always struck by the term lack, as it is one of those high velocity terms that lurks beneath the surface of much of what interests me lately (this blog post is a tweaking of what I wrote on Pete's blog).

For Pete, and of course Lacan, lack defines the "incompleteness hard-baked into the very nature of human subjectivity (a lack formed in and by language)." Religion, then, recognizes that lack, and performs theology. Pete offers his 'pyrotheology' as the antidote (psychoanalysis?) to the religious maneuver when it attempts " to stop it up via some signifier." I am trying to read Pete's pyrotheology through the lens of the work of Caputo and Marion. 

Lack, then, is constitutive of the subject/being (being qua ens & esse) as the subject confronts the “loss” of immediacy: the loss of experiencing itself (as itself) and the world without language, which I construe as a fall into mediation. Such loss is inherent in the growth of consciousness, and therefore constitutive of it. In the play of the Real and the Symbolic, metaphysics enacts, in the Symbolic order, something actually going on in the ineffable Real.  I read 'incompleteness' and lack as loss, but loss as a space for something to enter, not merely consciousness, but of becoming---becoming, as Marion might say, 'gifted,' or as Caputo might say, opening upon a substrate for the 'call' from he knows not where.

If we take as axiomatic that the locus of the divine is the Real (Lacan), then all movements in the Symbolic (and Imaginary) order are analogical enactments that substitute for “lack” as they engage moments in the Real. These enactments in the Symbolic order of something occurring in the Real is what Pete calls the “the ground…of…religion.” I would add that it also grounds metaphysics and its gesture of analogy of being. This gesture is itself a response to a call (we can call it a 'pure call' to marry both Caputo's and Marion's call) from the Real itself, which insists upon its representation.

In Pete's pyrotheology and 'depravity,' religion provides a frame for lack to be "made manifest." It is this idea of manifesting that fascinates me. Far from foreclosing on lack, pyrotheology opens onto the very givenness of the Real itself. In this sense, Jean-Luc Marion’s 3rd phenomenological reduction to ‘givenness’ brushes up against Pete's pyrotheological opening, and instead of foreclosing on lack, discloses the formation of the subjectivity of self (a relation of metonymy, not identity).

Depravity, then, can be understood as a ‘deprivation’ of immediacy, that, unexpectedly, opens upon the horizon that situates givenness, presenting it to the intuition. When the intuition is ‘saturated,’ the ‘religious impulse’ becomes the response to Caputo’s ‘unheard call’, which commands the aim of intentionality. The shift from the immediate to the mediated that constitutes the appearance of the self, is the heart of sacramentality itself. The religious subject is thereby called into itself, “constituted” as Pete asserts, by lack, which is the distance between the Real, and everything else anterior to consciousness, the gifted, the human person fully alive.

If we suspend Caputo’s notion that his ‘call’ is reduced to one’s “mommy” in psychoanalysis, then it’s really not "depravity" that separates pyrotheology from Caputo’s theopoetics/insistence theology, but rather entangles them in the play in his ‘chiasm’ where Marion’s new phenomenology holds lack in tension between givenness and the emerging self. For Marion’s system, the relation between what is given and subjectivity precedes the individuation of the self. Hence, we can understand that lack, givenness, the Real are all anterior to the self coming into being.

The pyrotheological, phenomenological and theopoetical gestures share in the notion that relationality precedes being, and constitutes it as that which is anterior to it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Laudato si': Onto-Ecology and Responsibility in the Folds

The most recent encyclical letter of Pope Francis, Laudato si', is an exhortation of integration, of enfolding, unfolding and folding again. Had Keller's Cloud of the Impossible appeared after the pope's letter, the Cloud would have enfolded it in a tight embrace. The apophatic entanglements in each paragraph of Laudato si' expose the interrelatedness of the natures of the human and the non-human, of the living and non-living, and they link them within an inextricable matrix of an onto-ecology comprised of any number of sub-ecologies. Francis also seems to admit an uncanny object oriented ontology, wherein all objects are made of other objects and interact in a relationality of surfaces; for example, humans interact with their environments through their very embodiment (155).

Francis returns to a favorite theme of the 'common good,' which the encyclical defines as the totality of conditions leading to individual's and community's fulfillment (IV). The securing of the common good means securing it at all levels of the onto-ecological system, from non-human ecological systems to the human, societal and global. Hence, Francis, as his namesake before him, embraces all of creation, in all its chiasmic splendor and entangled intricacies declared 'good' by its creator. The integrity of the whole of creation must go all the way down and all the way through, and none of it, says Laudato si', can maintain its integrity without a commitment to each moment down and through (13 ff).

Laudato si' must be read by all concerned Catholics and other people of good will. The encyclical presents a moment, embarassing to some but a boon to others, that identifies a world and its people at the crossroads and a time for action. Some readers will misinterpret the simplicity of its presentation as quaintness or provincialism, but the encyclical's plainness should be understood as its desire to communicate its themes to a very broad audience. Laudato si' is nothing less than a call to interconnectedness, a call that haunts us all.

Perhaps comments to this blog, which has addressed the ecology of the home and stewardship of the earth before, pertaining to the encyclical will foster a fruitful dialogue about this most crucial opportunity presented by the pope.

Stormy Weather: Fear and Trembling on Land and Sea

Don't know why
There's no sun up in the sky
Stormy Weather

Rossini's William Tell, Beethoven's 6th Symphony, The Pastorale, Strauss' Alpine Symphony, Shakespeare's The TempestArabian Nights, all contain storms to beat the band. As a metaphor, the storm is as old as the species homo sapiens sapiens itself. Storms are everywhere throughout time.

This Sunday, the lectionary presents Mark's version of a storm at sea.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” [Mark 4:37-8, NIV]

Fr. Barron has composed a comforting homily on the biblical passages for this Sunday. He presents as poetic a reading of the pericope as one is likely to find. I think he errs, though, when he presents the Church's sexual abuse scandal as a storm that challenges the pilgrim's course of the barque of Peter.

Though he has it right that the scandal is a great storm, a faith shaking moment in the life of the Church, he runs a great risk of offending the sensibilities of the victims when he externalizes the moment. As I have commented on the Word on Fire website, this storm is not something violent from without being visited upon the Church, but it is rather something violent from within the Church being visited upon the world.

The 'furious squall' results from the disease of pedophilia being visited upon the most vulnerable members of the Church, and from the cover-up of those criminal visitations by the power players, the leaders of the Church, whose short-sighted goal was to protect the integrity of the Church. These are the boat-rockers threatening the barque with drowning. The waves generated by the barque against the sea send repercussions to invade the shores and harbors within the Church's reach.

To the extent that the moral evil in the scandal in not intrinsic to the Church as the Mystical Body, Fr. Barron might still be grounded in a reality worth noting. The pericope, though, is about other business. The sleeping Jesus is one locked away from viewing the idle hands of the princes of the Church. It is a Jesus momentarily bound, closeted, in a futile effort to contain such a saturated phenomenon. When he awakes, he arises as the indefectability of the Church, as the renewing Holy Spirit that quells the storm.

The scandal is a powerful lens through which to read this Markan pericope, but it opens on a logic that inverts the loci of the storm metaphor. Taken as an element of a thorough allegoresis, the storm locates its source from an indefectable but corruptible boat whose rockers will either receive the Spirit or drown. The disciples, whose progeny sit at the table of the greatest challenge to our Church, could hardly have known how their ecclesial descendents would put Jesus to sleep while they convulse the sea of faith. They feared drowning, but could not imagine that their counterparts of today would hold children's heads under water.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Catholicism and Givenness: A Brief Introduction to an Idea of the Gift

The 'new' in the "new phenomenology" centers on the reappropriation of the 'gift' and the concept of event as elucidated in the work of Jean-Luc Marion (with constant reference to a ghosted John D. Caputo). Elsewhere I have characterized the new phenomenology as deconstructive, as it seeks to release the event and the eventiveness of phenomena that appear of themselves, unconditionally. Not then, on a horizon of being do phenomena, most notably the "saturated phenomena" make their appearance, but on the horizon of possibility itself (posse ipsum). Radical openness to the possible, and even the possibility of the impossible, begins in the phenomenological reduction that brings about the self in an 'other than' natural attitude (by which we mean an attitude constructed upon ad hoc judgements and prejudices which tend to confine the event---prevent the event---and the appearance of phenomena in their givenness). Catholicism, a religious mode of aiming the intentionality of consciousness  toward the transcendent and the immanent, is a transhistorical phenomenology (instantiated in each Catholic consciousness) that opens up the natural attitude to God and (what Marion  [Being Given, 239-40 and elsewhere]  has called the "saturated phenomenon par excellence") the Christ-event.

The biblical books do not present a clear representation of the fluctuations of the self, the oscillations of relationality and individuality, or the play between the subject and the always emerging self. Though they know of creation, presence, absence, being and consciousness, they do not articulate 'givenness' as constitutive of the naming of the self. Nonetheless, the Bible's openness to creation, the good, history and God's actions in the world, suggests a space for givenness as a unitive force of nature.

The New Testament presents the Christ-event in terms of recognition, epiphany,  transfiguration. It emphasizes 'reading' the signs of the times, what is present, what is presented as a 'gift' and it certainly has an uncanny way of saturating phenomena. Even the most casual reader of the Gospels is struck by the the presentation of those who do not know Jesus, who do not distinguish the sacred from the profane: the presentation of those who did not know or receive him (John 1:10-12). The Synoptic transfiguration pericopes display bedazzlement before the gaze of Jesus closest disciples, whose interpretation can only be gibberish. Such biblical warrants look to the reception of phenomena.

Givenness characterizes all types of phenomena, those that saturate the intuition and those that do not; indeed, phenomena that do not overwhelm the intuition by spilling out of their categorical silos remain open to such spillage and bedazzlement: such phenomena, for example, are the stuff of paradigm shifts in scientific models and modes of interpretation. The givenness of things 'calls' the subject through relationality of itself to the receiving subject, individuating it, thereby bringing the self into itself: relation---individual--selfhood. The call need not have a voice, coming from a vocative order as an invasion of the existential order. The call invites the aim of the intuition, the intention of a consciousness to 'see' something in its givenness  as it is in itself. And both sides of this reduction (Caputo would recognize an undecidability here), through the relation established by a call received, come into view, into the horizon of being. this 'third' phenomenological reduction therefore locates the 'call' anterior to being, and relationality anterior to individuality. Certainly, Marion's most readable statement on this relation of self to the call can be found in his In the Self's Place:The Approach of St. Augustine. In this work, Marion reads the Confessiones through the language of givenness.

Everything is given. There are no prohibitions about what can enter the phenomenological process. Rocks, justice, God equally enter into phenomenology. Sheer givenness knows nothing of religion, spirituality, quantum physics; it does itself not distinguish the sacred from the profane. Such qualities can never emerge on either side of the reduction, but only in relationship between givenness and the emerging self and subjectivity. Nothing is a priori, and the process problematizes the a posteriori as well. Phenomena enter experience in defiance of sequence and causality. Givenness, then, is located in the chiasm, in the atemporal entanglements between the thing itself and the flux of the self.

There is a natural marriage between the universal character of Catholicism and the universality of givenness. Everything is given: creation, consciousness, God, history, life, death, salvation, the Tradition, dogma, Scripture, rocks, rain, and a starry night. Catholicism opens consciousness to the field of phenomena as an invitation to the dance; it is itself a hermeneutic of relationality within the Godhead, within the hypostatic union, and within the constitution of the self and the world. It is itself not the choreographer, but a choreography of grace and nature, of the sacramentality of the given.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ghastly Hauntings

I'd like to respond to a little pushback to my "Haunted by the Holy Ghost," pushback that noted a certain vagueness to my appropriation of 'repetition,' as Caputo means it. I warn the reader that what follows is far more political than I intended or perhaps needs to be, but that's nonetheless how the challenge struck me, and how I've chosen to respond. If politics disturbs the reader, or if the reader doesn't want to risk being disappointed in me, I suggest ignoring this post.

I should have gone a bit further about what else is being repeated in our American culture lately---this is not really about religion per se, but it touches upon the salve of progress, that which enables the usurpation of religion by secularist-capitalist interests. Either side of the American political spectrum now speaks of income inequality. The right is just now entering the conversation and is giving voice to its newly found populism, while the left can't quite leave Robin Hood in the story books. Both sides are too modern, all too modern.

Either way, I should have added to my little litany of correspondences the new opiate of the people. While I am way too mainstream and centrist in my politics to be silly enough to embrace the values of any ideology, I would still say that while once religion played the opiate, now the illusion of participation in the grand capitalist narrative plays that role: move over God, and make room for Mammon----the IRA, the 401K, the 403B---the masquerade that regular people are really participating in global market forces.

I wonder if the deep secret of capitalism is its tacit acknowledgement that it has limits when it comes to generating wealth, limits as to how much it can produce, limits when it comes to a place at the table, limits to who can garner that wealth---that whatever does trickle down never reaches the poorest among us (despite a recent, mind-boggling suggestion that America's poor are the richest poor in the world). Perhaps the existence of the poor reassures the producers, the wealth generators, that capitalism is humming along, that the poor will always be with us and always require some version of a welfare safety net, so that neo-liberals and just plain liberals can sleep well in their do-gooding.

I am trying to avoid an overreach here, but is it un-American or un-Christian to ask if the middle class has been bamboozled into thinking that its supplying money to the real players (the poor cannot get into the game) in the market is a winning strategy for securing their own wealth for the future? Remarkably, even after the Great Recession---where the middle class donated its wealth to bailing out the greedy---the illusion dies hard. By now, most have recovered their devastating losses and are even showing a little growth; that's the brain-deadening wool over the mind's eye.

We all should be haunted by moral hazard but the secret of Mammon keeps telling people that it was the wind that knocked over that lamp. For all the talk lately of the redistribution of wealth, what forces have done more to shift wealth than those whose access to the market have provided opportunity for shaping economic tendencies and sentiment? These are the high priests of the new secular church, not those leaders whose well-intentioned but misdirected and impotent calls for 'fairness' vilify them in the face of a convincing illusion that retirement is secure---now that mega-capitalists have convinced us capitalist-wannabees to invest in the new faith. Part of the reason the markets pale when even a hint of rising interest rates (the price of money, which right now is dirt cheap) raises its ugly head is because the mega-capitalists don't like putting their own skin in the game, and would much rather play with others' money. They feed on the slumber-inducing illusion that everyone can get rich if only they invest in the system. Of course they have no problem leaving those investors (read: those saving for retirement) out to dry when things heat up. Their wealth is far more secure than any wealth in the opiates of the regular guy's stock portfolio.

Who will tell the middle class, the spinal column of America, when the mega-capitalists will make a move, when the wealth is about to flow out of the drugged slumber of the pack of wishes (some call it investment risk and market uncertainty) called a portfolio? Whose planned retirements will survive a 30-50% (or worse) reduction of personal capital when the mega's feel the need to declare that 'greed is good' and make a risky move (well not that risky---for them---we will resupply them with money)? How many hits to the spine can America take before its back is finally broken? 

Capitalism, it seems, is the very best shape for an economy adopt, and liberal democracy is its best buttress. Yet the capitalist dream is no viable repetition of religion. It does not know of a future of hope, only a short-term foreseeable time of wishes and gains. Capitalism's time is a strike-while -the-iron's-hot kairos---a season to be greedy. The Church has critiqued an unfettered capitalism's amorality if not its malicious tooth-and-claw competition for wealth; the Church, in turn, has been criticized for creating a straw-man capitalism---that such an unfettered capitalism does not exist. Unfettered or not, our capitalism will do just fine in ignoring the poor, hoarding the wealth, while crushing the back of the American worker---whether she is flipping burgers, assembling a car, teaching in the classroom, or asking someone to say "ahhh" and "cough".

There is no obvious solution to the incestuous relationship between establishment capitalists and the political structures that assure them of a nice safe sandbox. I remain committed to the Catholic Church's principles of social justice---solidarity and subsidiarity. These principles, of a certain wisdom and grace for which I hope and pray, can guide the size of a democratic government and harness the appetite of a capitalist economy. The balance between them is a work in progress and a source of hope in a future where we await the capitalism to come, a democracy to come, in the balancing act of a justice to come. 

Perhaps then those ghastly hauntings that go bump in the night of a good conscience will start a march into the light, and we all can get a little righteous sleep.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Haunted by the Holy Ghost

We live in post-gothic times.

Culture seems to shadow the shadows,  moving as a dark figure against a background of blurry darkness.

Everything is haunted by everything else. History haunts the present; the present haunts the future; the future haunts losses to come prefigured in the now. Things are lost and found in the luminous dark.

Hauntology is a word whose days are numbered, no doubt destined to become a ghost that haunts its haunts and itself. The tropes of spooky actions at a distance that spook the boredom of coffee spoons, books, and the past that falls out from old books onto the floors of the fleeting present, themselves hang on the clock of hackneyed figura. But for now, it spooks.

It spooks. So says the title of Caputo's recent magazine, It Spooks. I believe it does. Nowadays, everything is spectral. Even Caputo is haunted, not just by Derrida and hauntology, but 'from within.' How does one even begin to respond 'to an unheard call?' Without begging the question of 'response,' responding to something that gets itself heard, even if outside the senses, is couched in undecidability, the tension that makes binary oppositions oppositions in the first place.

In The Weakness of God Caputo offers an apology to confessional theologians for pointing out that their best work is a response to the ghosting of their texts. There is something waiting to be born in the texts of the Tradition, both biblical and post-biblical. Though I am not a theologian, I have discovered that I am a theological thinker, a person that lives a form of life open to the theological turn. That I am also Catholic seem often to be beside the point, but I am of a time and place, a quirk of history, and there is no getting around the tradition and discourse that has played an important part in shaping my consciousness.

Ghosting. I am actually thinking of the phenomenon of printed letters appearing to imperfect eyes. A blurring whose frame must be adjusted by a squint, a best squint. This experience is known to anyone whose had their eyes examined (what Chart, what "E"?). In any event, 'ghosting' is a useful metaphor here. Ghosting is not limited to what the eyes do when they confront a written text. It's about focus and focusing, about getting something to appear, even if a best squint cannot reduce all ghosts to clarity. It is about a process of reductions that allow vision to envision not only a clearing of the letter, but a focus on the ghost.

In a remarkable if not difficult work, Senses of Tradition (Oxford:NY, 2000), John E. Thiel presents a sound case for bringing the Tradition into focus in a post-structuralist version of allegoresis (non-unlike the premodern patristic exegesis that maddens the moderns). Thiel allows the Tradition to visit hermeneutics, and the clarity of dogma to take on a depth of a ghosting. Of course, he doesn't talk like that.

And I am not going to talk like Thiel here. I have suggested elsewhere in this blog, and fairly recently, of the givenness of the Tradition, of dogma. I have also commented on its plasticity. I am sympathetic to Thiel's instincts that such gifts are unconditional. And I accept biblical texts, patristic texts, magisterial texts (the tripartitie Catholic rule of faith) as unconditional gifts that call to be received,  calls unheard but calls insisting to be heard.

There is a reason for Catholicism's paroxysmal fear of the holy ghost. It fears it will leap out of the trinity and into a pneumatological life of its own, freeing up the rollers, shakers and quakers to speak in tongues that would drive St. Paul to put those scales right back on his eyeballs. We Catholics have something of a love-hate relation with the holy ghost: we really want the renewing of the face of the earth, but without the spooky stuff (I'm thinking of Robert De Niro doing his tongue rolling at the end of Cape Fear).

I am quite comfortable with my ghosted Catholicism, and I'm pretty OK with the holy ghost, too. Every sacred text must be blurred for the good stuff to happen, to appear. The reader might recall those computer-generated images that required the viewer to relax her eyes to allow an image to appear in "3-D." That is the physiological version of the phenomenological reduction. Nothing reductive informs this kind of reduction; there is nothing of "God is nothing more than the projection of the human," or "religion is nothing more that wishful thinking." The kind of reduction here has nothing to do with the last gasps of rigid modernity trying to dictate the parameters of what is real and true. This kind of reduction is more like a great chef transforming a liquid hodge-podge into a sublime sauce, a reduction, that brings an asparagus spear or a seared duck breast into focus. But I digress (and make myself a little hungry).

 Of course some of us will remain Mr. Pitt (Seinfeld), a little too eager to see but unable to get beyond the facial contortions that disfigure the apparatus and not the image.

You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust.You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground. Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works. [Psalm 104:29-31]

The holy ghost haunts sacred texts and imbues them with the uncanny ability to read the reader into bringing something into relief, something always there lurking, disponible, waiting to appear. The holy ghost is a spirit of integration and revelation. It blurs the letter, deepens it, and renews it from all the way down. Without the ghostly gesture, texts become dead letters, lost in a limbo without direction, without a hope of being received. Without the haunting apparitions that cause every letter to oscillate between its clarity and porosity, the letter is lost, collapsing into the dust in a valley of very dry bones.

The holy ghost is a spirit of freedom, of life, of movement. Letters, like dry bones, quicken with life and meaning in the presence of  the psalmist's "Spirit," and create a new space in a new face. The spooking that gets confessional theologians to read between the lines of dogma is the unheard call that gets itself called. Theologians attuned to the call write a new earth in the crevices of the letter. They free dogmatic concepts from their idolatry to resonate within the iconic gaze. Is this not what Aquinas did for his age, and Rahner for his? Is this not what Roger Haight, SJ, was about in his Jesus:Symbol of God? The Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith was certainly spooked! Haight's hermeneutics and his

 ...interpretation, however, does not in fact result in doctrinal proposals that convey the immutable meaning of the dogmas as understood by the faith of the Church, nor does it clarify their meaning, enhancing understanding. The Author's interpretation results instead in a reading that is not only different from but also contrary to the true meaning of the dogmas. [from the Notification]

Clearly Haight was haunted by dogmatic statements about the divinity of Christ, but so too was the CDF haunted by what divinity looks like when rewritten into a postmodern world. I wonder if Haight would have gone unnoticed if he had access to Marion's notions of saturated phenomena and the idol and icon. Certainly Jesus: Icon of God has its problems, but it might have saved us all from a very ugly scene in the life of the Church. but I digress again...

To say that I am comfortable with a haunted Catholicism does not imply a departure on my part from scripture, Tradition and the magisterium. I simply mean that to be Catholic is to be a Catholic at a given place and time and therefore recognize that eternal truths about God and Catholicism can never be written into any age as Absolute Truth. Sadly, simple confessional religion, with which Catholicism sometimes finds itself complicit, sometimes pulls the spirit from the letter, allowing things to turn to dust. That's a ghastly kind of ghosting. We need a complicated religion, a blurred, blurring, oscillating religion that shakes out the event from its letters. That kind of spectral Catholicism seems to me the very heart of a lived faith, a lived religion, a lived Catholicism.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Water and Wine: A Tincture of Time

The 4th Gospel (4G) has a logic all its own. The Logos, after  all, becomes flesh, and has its way with words (certainly with the Word), and its way of destabilizing time and causality in its representation of a reality fleshed out with irony. In the Johannine world, picking up the phone causes it to ring, and adverbial signage yields to a theo-logic in which 'before' and 'after' live in the same moment.

The message of the Baptist is a message that time is out of joint, that the present is presence in which the past and future merge: "A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me" [John 1:30, NIV]. That man, Jesus, the word become flesh, will later say, "before Abraham was I am" [8:58]. The logic of 4G is the logic of a late mediaeval painting depicting 'before' and 'after' events, such as Adam and Eve at once basking in the Garden of Eden and being cast out.

This tincture of time, or better, atemporal time,  even the causality-defying atemporal sequencing of events, sets up the wonderful Wedding at Cana [John 2]:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there,
and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 
When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.  He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,
"Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." 
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
The salient features of the pericope (a parable given realism by the use of current time and place) include:
1. The 3rd day: the 1st and second decribing the testimony of John the Baptist and the gathering of the disciples.
2. The location of Cana in Galilee, and the family affair elements: Jesus' mother is there, demonstrating that the logos taking flesh is born of a woman.
3. The transfinalization of the water jars and their excess of contents.
4. The reversal of time in the sequencing of wine-events; the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom?
5. The identification of this reversal as semiotic and the birth of faith.
This second chapter of 4G follows Jesus, whom John has dubbed the 'lamb of God,' from his inaugural in the Prologue, through his distinction from John, to his identification as the one who baptizes with the holy spirit, someone already in the midst of the Pharisees. Things are happening very fast. Two of John's own disciples transition to God's chosen One [1:34], followed quickly by Peter, Philip and Nathanael. In head-spinning time compression, Jesus and his disciples are invited to the Wedding at Cana (which takes place on the 3rd day) where Jesus' mother awaits their arrival from Bethany.
The next scene is at the Wedding and in medias res. The is no more wine; the celebration is apparently in danger of winding down, or missing the mark of its purpose. Jesus' mother intercedes on behalf of the bridegroom or wine-steward, and approaches Jesus with the dilemma. Jesus' wristwatch is synchronized neither to his mother's or the wedding's. The dearth of wine is of no concern to either him or his mother, at least according to his understanding of his 'hour,' which he locates in the future. Yet it seems that mother knows best, for Jesus commands the servants to fill the empty ritual containers with water.
He commands the servants to take a sample from the brimming jars to the master of the banquet, whose astonishment prompts him to compliment the bridegroom: you have saved for last that which comes first. Far from throwing pearls before swine, the best wine will not be wasted on this crowd. The nearly endless volume of wine will not intoxicate, even though it is the best, and it might well lead to a palace of wisdom. That which has come after has surpassed what has come first, because it has come 'before 'in the 'after' of what the wedding has inaugurated. The brimming uncontainability of wine demonstrates the transfinalization of the jars as the vessels of the uncontainable event of the Messiah. The 'sign' at Cana is the saturated phenomena.
What issues from the ablutions of the past is the future of the Messianic banquet, a marriage not of heaven and hell, but of past and future. This is not therefore a moment of supersessionism, but of new self-understanding emerging from the phenomenality of the transformation of water into wine. Here in the language of Cana is the theo-logical moment, the birth of faith in the iconic event of Christ released from the ritual waters that are now become real drink, real wine. Here in the present time of the wedding, the 'before' and 'after' meet in the Christ already in the midst of everything, in medias res.

The historical kernel of the pericope is forever lost in the evangelist's sense of time and timing. Whether the Johannine community is privvy to an authentic tradition of a wedding in or near Galilee during the ministry of Jesus shall remain an open question open to conjecture. Still, 4G is after after something bigger than history; it want to locate the truth, the way and the life (not necessarily in that order). While the wedding at Cana might be simulacra to us today, it is Jesus' first foray into semiosis, or at least the Johannine Jesus' first foray.

The wedding at Cana depicts a Christ already in the midst of things, already upon the scene, shaping and being shaped by the discourse in which he moves. His own time moves the narrative of 4G while the narrative moves Jesus to move his own time. His hour remains in the future until the wine situation dictates otherwise. The brimming ablution jars take on water on one side of the event and spills out wine on the other. This sign is a semiotically reduced saturated phenomenon. Only Jesus, his mother and disciples know the legend by which the action must be read: they have the hermeneutic that allows the event to be released in the icon. For the master of the banquet, the bridegroom has merely held the best for last. At best, they are merely perplexed, and perhaps somewhat grateful (what Jean-Luc Marion might call 'bedazzlement'). For those who are open to the event, what issues from the jars is new time, a time of 'faith' and 'glory.' The messianic wine heralds the beginning of wine-tinctured time, even as it announces the second half of the celebration, lubricated with the best wine, a libation bereft of even an ounce of hangover. A new time within time.

At Cana, events release other events. The Messiah appears in the outflowing of wine, which iconically redirects the intuition of the disciples to the person centering the Christ-event, the logos dwelling with us. The wine lets their gaze pass into miracle, and into the divine within and through the icon. It is a saturated phenomenon that breeds another saturated phenomenon: the event. It is true, that the master of the banquet shares in a saturated phenomenon as well---that of the idol---the very excess of the best wine. But in this moment, his gaze is overwhelmed with only the idolic excess. It remains to be seen if that idol of excess will yield to the icon for him and those of his moment.