Lately I have referred to the Realism that pertains to Christianity rooted in the Cross as 'Catholic' or 'Christian' Realism. These terms are interchangeable in the tradition but I will henceforth refer only to Christian Realism to avert any confusion and to confirm that this particular kind of realism does indeed have its roots the Gospels (certainly in their literary realism) and certainly in Aquinas, in the thought of Karl Rahner, in Karl Barth and in Bernard Lonergan's critical realism which itself is within the notion of Christian Realism. While Lonergan, and the like-minded Gilson, could not be mistaken for phenomenologists, the phenomenology considered in this blog is certainly rooted in Christian Realism, and offers its own kind realism; and Marion's vision of rationality is not foreign to the rational, intelligible universe of critical realism. At the center of this deployment of phenomenology is the flesh of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity.
Whatever suffers is redeemed. Because the endurance of the hypostatic union is fundamental for Christian realism, however 'mysterious' that is, the flesh that has taken upon itself all the capriciousness of the universe, all sources of suffering, is in turn taken into the Trinity itself, where it is 'cashed in', 'redeemed', for the absolute love that is the simplicity of God, the simplicity of the processions and relations within the Godhead. Capriciousness as suffering of the flesh is suffered by the Father in the Spirit as the Logos-sarx-Anthropos suffers it--- in the flesh--- 'once and for all' on the Cross. In a sense, there is nothing left of capriciousness in the Cross; it finally disintegrates in the Father's witness of the Son's flesh. The secular theme of 'redemption through love' as it courses through Goethe, Wagner and Mahler among other perhaps equally powerful currents, has this basis of its reality, its ground in the divine simplicity of love, in this analogy from 'above.'
No horizon searches with more urgency and immediacy for the horizon of meaning than the horizon of suffering. Suffering without meaning, or the hope for meaning, is not merely hopeless; it is absurd. A world of absurdity would have it that the words 'meaningful' and 'meaningless' mean the same thing. Not that the words would be synonymous, but that the thing would be either meaningful or meaningless willy-nilly in a world constituted by something other than meaning. For Christian thinking, the world is intelligible, imbued with a real rationality, and as such commands a posture of realism. For Christianity, the world makes sense.
The horizon of suffering seems to recede, withdraw endlessly into the deepest corners of reality as if it were constituted by receding and withdrawing. Because meaning is elusive, suffering become reflective, reduplicative, overwhelmed by the aporia of distance. The elusiveness of meaning holds suffering up to a mirror, and all it can see, it seems, is itself, its blinding self, its multiplying self, a self of pure suffering, unbearable and uncontainable. The horizon of meaning, just as powerfully real, also recedes and withdraws from the reality of suffering, at least from the perspective of a receding and withdrawing suffering.
Hope, oriented toward the future, envisions the intersection of the horizons of suffering and meaning at the infinite. For Christians, this infinite becomes historical in the Cross, the instantiation of suffering and meaning, the instantiation of the union of the human and the divine in the Incarnation whose purpose takes on and dissolves suffering in itself. The horizon of meaning is always on the threshold of the multi-layered chiasmus of the reality of the Trinity, where the logos-sarx-anthropos finds its nexus with the Father-Son-Spirit. Such chiasm defies articulation, but analogy can approach its description---logos-flesh/human::logos-father:/:spirit. As suggested above, the unity of the Logos provides the nexus for the entry of the flesh into the divine oikos. The inadequacy of this model, however, is at least partially addressed, and insightfully so, by Jean-Luc Marion, for whom the intersection of horizons might involve their dissolution, or perhaps their solubility, in faith, hope and charity.
Nonetheless, the union of all suffering in the Cross as enfolded within the Incarnation and the Trinity is the paradox of Christian faith itself. If a 'lesson' emerges from the experiences of the Christian mystics, it is that while one might initially strive to unite human suffering with the Cross, one discovers that the suffering flesh is already united to Cross of Christ. To seek union is therefore to find it already accomplished. The receding horizon of suffering finds its way forward, into the future foreseen by hope, by 'backing into' signification, into meaning.
Because hope (and love, too) orients itself toward the other, its motion is interpersonal and inter-Personal, as Steinbock has noted both in his Phenomenology and Mysticism and Moral Emotions. Because, as Steinbock has explicated, the Myself is not self-grounded, the suffering in the flesh (which itself is inseparable from the Myself) cannot rest in the idol as a self-reflexive suffering might indicate as noted above. The mirror held up by elusive meaning becomes translucent as the gaze catches a glimmer of the icon whose translucency refracts the gaze to what can be found beyond the reflective surface of the idolic mirror. In order, though, to find what already rests in the icon, the flesh must discover its porosity, the points where it bleeds. This uncontainability is the event of the flesh and the event of the redemption of the flesh, both saturated phenomena par excellence.
We experience this saturation and verticality in the experience of the Church as the body of Christ. This unity of our flesh with the flesh of Christ gives the flesh its meaning at the nexus of the horizons of suffering and meaning. There is no meaning of salvation beyond this: being 'saved' is finding our flesh united in the Cross and received into divinity itself. Phenomenologically, I hope with great effort to unite the suffering of my flesh to the Cross. At first, I experience the saturated phenomenon of the idol: I am reflected back upon my self and the horizon of meaning recedes as my hope is disappointed; and I as 'subject' attempt but fail to constitute the meaning of my own suffering. Then I experience the icon: I hope for the givenness of the Cross as it gives itself as pure gift. I become the gifted when I find the Myself (as not self-grounded) in the flesh already there in the crucified Christ, who suffered the flesh once and for all. My flesh, subsumed into the flesh of Christ, discovers its meaning in the logos-sarx-anthropos, and therefore enters into the receiving breast of the mystery of the Trinity in its ever-dancing perichoresis.
The giving way of the idol to the icon perhaps play out in the phenomenal field of the body and flesh in the temptation of Christ in the desert, the pericope that traditionally opens the Lenten season.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time. [Luke 4:1-13; NAB]
At each invitation to sovereignty in this world, Jesus responds with the unconditional call of God. This rejection of sovereignty presented in Christ's rejection of temptation underscores his being in the world and his not being of the world. The turning from the idol toward the icon, as the flesh suffers the thirst of the body through its mortification in the desert, structures metanoia and the turn from worldly sovereignty toward the unconditional call. This call for us comes from the completed work of Christ, from the Cross where the experience of the call does not locate a God who chooses omnipotence's flexing the power of sovereignty, but the unconditional: the saturation of divine love in the erotic reduction. All temptation offers the idol of sovereignty; in the change of heart commanded by the Lenten season that anticipates the Passion-Resurrection of Christ, Christians hearken to the pure call, to the starkly different invitation of the divine insistence to love, to redemption of the flesh and the resurrection of the body.
Such an invitation is also found in Matthew's goats and sheep, where the evangelist offers the possibility that the invisible Christ is made visible in acts of hope and love. Such transitions from the invisible to the visible share the grammar of the shift from one saturated phenomenon to another (idol to icon), as the flesh, the Myself, not grounded in the self, finds itself already grounded in the experience of the other. In this sense, the version of intertextuality finds its analogue in the Myself whose play as object and subject in its grounding in the interpersonal and inter-Personal, reveals a strange intersubjectivity, where subjects are now objects, at once recipients of givenness, hearers of the call, accused and chosen.