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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hermeneutics and Dogma: Some Odds and Ends

The recent discussion on Mary in Church dogmatics has opened upon the stages of theodicy, the reality of the Incarnation, the Will of God, and the biblical representation of sin. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception (IC) has underscored the difficulty of its own language and its reception in the sensus fidelium. In order to move toward a reasonable synthesis, it would seem that the dogma should be contextualized within Christological, ecclesiological and soteriological themes and grace-theology as well.

1. Sanctifying grace (SG): The grace of holiness, SG maintains the integrity of a properly ordered relationship to God, and it is freely given by God, absolutely gratuitous, and beyond the reach of human merit. It is imparted by God through sacramentals, sacraments (the 7 properly so called and all others) and by direct will of the triune God. It is both cause and effect of the relationship between a human and God. SG is the grace operative in the dogmatic expression of the IC, for in this grace all abuse---sin--- of the relationship with God is impossible.

2. Ultimately, Original Sin (OS), from which Mary is preserved, is unintelligible apart from the representation of evil in the bible, which expresses the lived experience of evil and sin of the inspired authors of the biblical books, and the culture which produced the authors and books. Hence, only a hermeneutic that addresses the biblical representation of the reality of evil and sin can decipher the dogmatic representation of the IC. Any logic that seeks to separate the IC from OS and its representation cannot but fail to go astray in any effort to consider the meaning of the dogma. The Christian self-understanding of sin, Adam, Christ and (by obvious extension) Mary is already established in the Pauline corpus (cf. Rom 5:12ff; 1 Cor. 15:22) during the formation of the Church. For Paul, Adam was a historical figure, not merely a historical 'reality.'

3. The historical and biological uniqueness of the motherhood of Mary provides the facticity of her uniqueness as an individual. In this manner, Mary is forever embedded in Christology, and the uniqueness and facticity of the Christ-event itself.

4. Soteriologically, The Word made flesh, in order to effect salvation, must be of the flesh of Adam, real human flesh. The flesh of Adam was given to the Logos through the biological motherhood of Mary.

5. The sanctity of the vessel of the historical Incarnation of the Logos is a very ancient idea in the Church. How could God enter the world as a human being from a flesh always poised (effect of OS) to breach the relationship with God?

6. Which Adam would provide the flesh for the Word, a prelapsarian Adam, or a postlapsarian Adam? If we are to move to an interpretation of the IC and OS, a hermeneutic ordered to the mythological representation of the human being in proper relation to God is required, and that hermeneutic must be attuned to an Adam on either side of the breach, hence the validity, if not the essentiality of the question.

7. The dogma of the IC would be incoherent if it positioned Mary in a superior relation to sin from the incarnate Word. The Synoptic temptation scenes (Mk. 1; Matt. 3; Lk. 3 etc.) present Jesus being invited to sin by Satan. Though Jesus did not sin, narratologically there was an 'occasion' of sin. This simple concupiscence denied by Jesus cannot therefore be absent from Mary. The sanctifying grace imparted to the human nature of Jesus forecloses any real 'drama' in the moment. It must be something like this for Mary as well, without prejudice to the unique grace of the hypostatic union.

8. The simple concupiscence---the drive to seek the good--- of Adam is not the rejection of sanctifying grace. Such concupiscence is simply the reality of being human in a created environment. The IC implies that Mary did not answer to concupiscence, and this is held by the Tradition, though without de fide status. Mary's concupiscence is bracketed in this discussion (epoche) to allow her to appear on the same horizon as the prelapsarian Adam, both of them being full of grace.

9. OS is itself the mythic representation of the reality of moral evil in the world. In Gen 2: 16-17, God orders the freedom of the human to the special relationship with him, and informed the man that any exercise of freedom apart from that relationship would entail death. In the context of choice, and of seeking the 'good,' the human orders that choice to itself, apart from relation to God: when the fruit was judged 'good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom' (Gen. 3:6), choice is ordered against the relationship and to the human alone. The inspired author has witnessed the actions of humans apart from their relationship with God: treachery, murder, theft, pride and selfishness, and dislocates this reality to a mythic action in the past.

10. The plain language of the dogma of IC invites theodicy by presenting Mary's single privilege of grace (SG) in a uniqueness that alienates the rest of humanity in its divine exclusivity. By collapsing concupiscence as it has come to be known, Mary appears, with Adam, in the natural attitude of sanctifying grace, which was meant, from the beginning, for all of human-kind. As such, theodicy cannot make an appearance as an event.

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OS is the religious expression of the experience of the universality of moral evil. It is the sitz im Leben, the condition in which we, like the inspired authors of Genesis, find ourselves, and that which is mythologically represented in the biblical narrative of the fall. OS is itself mythos, and a dogmatic interpretation of mythos. It is therefore a mythos that represents an experience on either side of the mythic and dogmatic enterprise of faith. OS unites scripture with its tradition in a metalanguage of dogma.

To be free of OS, one assumes the position of Adam, who walked in graced freedom with God; and this condition is rather like the fullness of grace imparted dogmatically to Mary. Like her ancestor, Mary is immaculately conceived metahistorically with him, inherits his flesh and in turn gives that flesh to her son, Jesus. This much is already understood in the early Church, as Paul declares the relationship to the first and second Adam. Paul does not examine the condition of the portal of sin, but simply asserts a parallelism of grand design, leaving the examination to posterity.

Jesus then is 'born of a woman' of Adamite flesh. That flesh, Mary's flesh, though, is free of sin, of even the possibility of sin. This condition of the [im]possibility of sin cannot be the evil concupiscence that the Tradition identifies as the consequence of OS. This condition must be instead a simple attribute of the human nature. An attribute that is constitutive of the human partner that in and of itself does no injury to the relationship. Human nature, sanctifying grace, the immaculate conception of Adam and Mary are anterior to the fall. How can there be two outcomes from the lived experience of the same grace? How can impossibility and possibility come from the same grace in the same flesh?


"Their eyes were opened" [Gen. 3:7; Luke 24:31].


These identical phrases in Genesis and Luke read each other, the Tradition and dogma.  For the walkers on the road to Emmaus, there was the vision of a saturated phenomenon, the icon of the risen Christ. For the eaters of knowledge,  there was the vision of the saturated phenomenon, the idol of shame that overwhelms their gaze.

The early chapters of Genesis do not know of prophets, so God himself must declare the state of affairs in Eden.


He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently in an instant. Not to fall was too hard, too hard; and he felt the silent lapse of his soul, as it would be in some instant to come, falling, falling but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall. [ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 188].


And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." [Genesis 3:15]


Adam on the precipice of a self-determined good, experiencing his lapse before the fact in some instance to come; God prophesying the struggle between good and evil through motherhood of all human offspring, to the motherhood of the savior: this is the protoevangelium.

In the last gasp of the prelapsarian world the Christ-event becomes a reality, as does the conception of Mary in the grace that preserves her from what is about to happen. Mary does not fall with Adam, because the prelapsarian grace has opened her eyes to the icon of Christ through the providence of God which gazes back at her,  redeeming her through the very event Luke has depicted. Adam's eyes were opened, but Mary's eye's were opened wider on the same grace enjoyed by both. Adam could only be bedazzled by overwhelming gaze upon himself through his new knowledge, but Mary's gaze is saturated by a larger view upon grace and she partakes of the grand affirmation of creation itself: the fiat of creation whose reshith (thought of as perhaps 'chaosmic' time, Joyce's time of 'fall, falling, fallen') has ticked a heaven round the stars, becomes her own fiat, her 'yes' whose time ticks to and fro. Poor Adam, he could have hardly known, with all that knowledge, he was saying 'no.' He just couldn't see it, drowning in grace and blinded by the idol. Mary though, bathing in the sea of faith and the same sea of grace, was seen by God in the gaze that looks upon the gazer.


We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance 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. [Ineffabilis Deus]



Though Mary did not fall, she inherits and inhabits the same human condition as all other human beings. She was heir to everything that is human: joy, sorrow, suffering, death. The dogma states that she is graced, without saying how. Because it is also dogmatically stated and therefore de fide that Adam, too, in "the first instance of" his "conception by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God," he is joined by Mary in the relationship with God as it was in the beginning. Unlike Adam, Mary was left behind in prelapsarian grace, even though she was historically born into the postlapsarian world to receive God in her very flesh, the flesh of Adam, who, in the beginning was very like her. Mary's singularity and privilege play out in this fallen world in the historical motherhood of Jesus. As Adam was, for just a moment, falling out of love with God, God loved Adam unconditionally as he fell, and though Adam was fallen and surprised, God  had already declared the coming of Paul's new Adam. In the light of Christ, Paul could see it all coming.

It is therefore not the grace the marks the difference between Adam and Mary, but the gaze. Mary and Adam appear within the same horizon of grace; but for one, eyes open to the idol, and for the other, eyes open to the icon. The events of the fall and the redemption are released in the phenomenality of grace which pulls both Mary and Adam into selfhood. The gaze trumps the theodical attitude on both the Adamic and Marian trajectories toward the saturated phenomena. God has willed only freedom, the gaze upon which is the only determinant in the different outcomes. The rest is history.

The idol and icon present themselves within our experience in their very givenness. How shall we become? How wide shall our eyes open? Shall our souls lapse, or magnify the Lord? What shall appear to us in a disappearance on our own road to Emmaus? 

This is the stuff of grace, of hope, of what is to come. This is Mary-for-us in her givenness, as gift, as the exemplar of human cooperation in the ongoing creation of the world in the relationship with God as it was in the beginning.  This is Mary, mater et magistra, within the Catholic rule of faith: scripture (read, received, alive), Tradition (read, received, alive) and magisterium (read, received, alive). 

32 comments:

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  7. Because I am not a German I will never know what the follow German words actually mean, but I'll put them out there for you and me discuss. Vorstellung, Darstellung and Entstellung, which are generally understood to to mean, respectively, 'representation,' 'presentation,' and 'transposition.' I think, how we view these terms as working in our discussion will identify some of the problems we are addressing.

    While we both agree that Adam was not a historical figure, we must be careful to avoid problems with relativism here. I am not trying to be clever or ingenious or anything else that might reduce to sleight of hand.

    The gaze cannot escape grace because it is part of human consciousness, human nature. But it is also part of human subjectivity, which is where the difference is located.

    The myth or symbol must be thought of in terms of its representation (or content) and its presentation (or its expression). And the transposition is where I think you and I disagree.

    Our hermeneutic must remain open on either side of this equation. Sin is not something transmitted from Adam in any direct lineage from text to biology. The dogma of OS is trying to connect the dots for us, but we both know that is not working.

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  8. The task in our discussion is to run Kant in reverse. We need to move from ethics to the bible if we are really to get at what we are always trying to get at. Hillel taught the categorical imperative: do unto others...all the rest is commentary. Jesus taught something similar. Love God. Love neighbor. Let's put ourselves in the shoes of the biblical writers. Let's generate the entire bible from those 4 words. Why say in 4 words what you can say in 800 thousand?

    The bible and the Catholic tradition are saying those 4 words in countless ways. The books of the bible are about presenting those 2 relationships and how things go right and how they go very wrong.

    Is the IC just about how God chose a girl? Is it simply about just how special she must have been to have such an honor? Is it really about how everyone else is deprived of that honor? Is the Catholic tradition just how grace is given to some and not to others? If so, then even those 4 words are too many words. Love God. Love neighbor. Relationships.

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    1. "I don't even understand what that means for a relationship with God "to go wrong." Again, you have never came up with any plausible scenario of the first sin—and even if there is no Adam, there must have been the first sin human history. I still have no idea what that could possible be, or how it could possibly be. How would the earliest humans even know what was a "right" relationship with God even was?!"

      With all due respect, this statement betrays the very problem with relativism I was concerned about.

      There does *not* have to be a "first" human sin. The assumption here conflates primary and secondary mythologies, primary and secondary texts, narrative and exegesis. The biblical writers saw themselves as thrown into a world of injustice and cruelty and imaginatively in inspiration generated stories that trace the sin of the world to a single sin. In light of this situation, your questions answer themselves.

      The only factual access to 'our ancestors' is through the fossil record. The access to our ancestors, Adam and Eve, the Patriarchs that the bible provides is in terms of faith and morals.

      The general problem you identify with here-ness and there-ness, both physical and historical is a real one, but its solution is found in religious pluralism, ecumenism, human nature and culture, and in a large but elusive Truth that cannot be contained by any of these. That is the human predicament.

      I agree with you when you say 'we are not god;' but that true statement can never get us to 'there is no God." And I am also trying to be very transparent, so it is excellent that you 'can see right through all of this.' So how can you say that grace can be taken away leaving Catholicism bankrupt and dead? That claim is foreign to even the most rudimentary understanding of grace. "Mary's grace" is made exceptional *only* in her relation to the Incarnation (otherwise the dogma is even more incoherent than we thought). Does that make her grace superior to the grace of Adam (that's dogmatically impossible because Adam enjoyed 'sanctifying grace' not merely sufficient grace)? I sure hope not because, for one thing, anti-Semitism and supersessionism follows on the heels of such nonsense. No, the difference rests in subjectivity and salvation history. To say otherwise is to say that all who came before Jesus were victims of a shabby grace from a capricious demiurge and history is a curse on the world. Sounds more like Gnosticism or Manichaeism than atheism. Your best approach would be to simply deny that grace even exists rather than to argue how much of it can dance on the head of a pin. That pin stuff is what you are doing when you, as a protesting non-believer, appropriate the IC as fodder for theodicy.

      I cannot give you evidence beyond the history of Judaism and Christianity for any exceptional status of the bible. That history is the only warrant for the bible as the Word of God. In and of itself, the bible makes no claim for itself apart from the inspired writers, so the game is rigged. The only way into its hermeneutic circle is through hermeneutics and other theological gestures.

      You should only care about the bible *religiously* if you can discern a divine authority in it, otherwise, you can enjoy it as you suggest.

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    7. Since there's no Adam, we can't even compare the two. When you say, "Adam enjoyed 'sanctifying grace,'" like Mary, what are trying to say here? You are comparing a real individual to a mythological one.

      Actually, I am comparing 2 dogmatic statements: the apparent contradiction rests with those dogmas: 1) Adam was created into sanctifying grace; 2) Mary was created into sanctifying grace.

      The dogmas make sense only if Adam is a collective of the humans who experienced the first thoughts. This is what the biblical authors did: they found themselves in a condition of 'sin' and under inspiration, imaginatively depicted a moral occurrence in the past.

      "If nonhuman animals cannot sin, and at some point sin appears, that sounds like sin had an historical *beginning*. What am I missing here?"

      This is the natural attitude. You are missing nothing if you are working in the empirical, logical paradigm. You will also find nothing you seek in that paradigm. The attitude in your logical expression of the historicity of a first sin looks at sin as any other 'first.' It make no distinction between 'sin' and the first hiccup or sneeze. In the logic of your expression there of course was a first sin. You can call that original sin: that exposes you to the all the risks of seeking 'origins' within the paradigm from which you work.

      I do not define OS as the personal sin of an individual. I put myself in the biblical authors' place and define it as the condition all humans find themselves. The authors represent that in myth, a much safer place than the paradigm you are using. In you schema Mary is 'conditioned;' in mine she finds herself exempted from a condition.

      I will shortly post "Grace, Sin and the Natural Attitude". I think that post will provide a better foundation for your critique than simply burying all this good stuff in the comments sections here.

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    12. I appreciate the benefit of the doubt, even in the face of my 'Bultmannia' ( I like that). I must say that I am not really doing the Bultmann thing; in fact I am trying to leave the myth as myth, without getting bogged down in the secondary myths of dogmatic statements. I don't know if I can address OS in the next post to your satisfaction, but I can say this. OS is not something that is so easily traced to the Genesis texts (not that the Catholic Tradition has not done just this). OS is a dogma, and while, for example, Judaism understands the profundity of what happens in Eden, it is simply not a *dogma* for Judaism. I am trying to keep the Eden story separate from what happens dogmatically 500 years after the Cross. I hope that's not going all Bultmann.

      What is going on in the Eden story is the (mythic) antecedent for the rupture within the relationship between Yaweh and Israel in the story of that people. Augustine sees that biblical/historical rupture through the eyes of St. Paul, and conjures OS as the reason for the persistent rupture of that relationship to his own time. The dogma of OS ratifies Augustine's view (he is not the only Father of the Church to see things that way, but he's the one we remember for it). Can we at least keep the Eden story and the dogma of OS separate enough to see each clearly?

      The guilt Augustine posits is a reading of the Eden story that informs his understanding of sin, again through his reading of Paul. The origin of OS then must be for Augustine the first rupture in the relationship with God: Adam's disobedience, which for Augustine was absolutely historical. We can appreciate this: Augustine, like Paul and the Genesis authors experience the madness of sin. To own it, Augustine names it like Adam names the animals and the Genesis authors represent the myth. If Augustine weren't beleaguered by the Pelagians, we might be talking very differently about grace today.

      So when you say for example that your questions are not forced upon the text, if you mean the text of the dogma, I agree; if you mean Genesis, I disagree. Dogma reads Genesis with the kind of force you mean. We don't have to. But if we want to make sense of the dogmas in terms of Genesis, and vice versa, we need a very flexible hermeneutics that does not resort to force.

      Regardless, Jesus is the solution to the rupture with God, whether you locate that rupture in Genesis, Exodus, the Prophets or the NT. Jesus came to, once and for all, heal the rupture with God because he came as the hypostatic union and carried an entire human experience on a Cross to which he was nailed.

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    1. Is it sleight of hand? If so, then so is phenomenology, for that too is about allowing some to make an appearance. If such appearances are nothing more that the appearance a rabbit might make in a hat, then phenomenology is magic that will cease to be fun. By the same criteria, theology is also prestidigitation, and theodicy, too, a cheap trick.

      So, what do you think is going on in the self's place?

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    4. If a metaphysical prioritizing of essence or existence is *not* an option, which is anterior to the other, the self or a call that brings the self into itself.? You don't need to read a book; just recall the time you spent with Levi Bryant on his Lacan discussion board. What is 'lack?' You can take a peek at my posts about Pete Rollins, or you can read all Lacan's seminars ;-). Where you stand on 'lack' might inform what you think is going on in the self's place. There might be a bit of jargon, but a jargon you already know.

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    7. Well, Alice, it depends on how far down the rabbit hole you really want to go. The choice of pill is up to you, but if you don't wake up in your bed as if from a dream, you will be on a path of no return.

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  12. I have never viewed you as 'the problem,' nor is it my wish that you adopt deconstruction as a tool or an attitude, though worse things could happen. We don't need to flap our arms to fly, just a plane ticket. If you really wanted to fly, I would only criticize you for not buying your own ticket. Our wings are not always our own.

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