Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Miracles II

By now it should be clear that no account of the most famous miracles, the miracles of Jesus, can ensue without first giving an account of the ground of the miraculous, those acts of creation given in the Creation proper, and in the Incarnation, and in an account of hope and love whose reality and nexus is the miracle-itself. Apart from the horizons of love and hope, and their orientations to the future and the other, miracles remain invisible. Hence, the appearance of the miracle depends on a special case of the gaze, the gaze of the vertical. Jean-Luc Marion has written extensively on the nature of the gaze and its relation to the visible and the invisible, but in The Crossing of the Visible (trans., James K.A. Smith, Stanford, 2004), a phenomenology ostensibly about art and the painting as image, idol and icon, as object and saturated phenomenon, he begins with the paradox and the miraculous, and provides for us a point of departure:

The paradox attests to the visible, while at the same time opposing itself, or rather, while inverting itself; literally, it constitutes a counter-visible, a counter-seen, a counter-appearance that offers in a spectacle to be seen the opposite of what, at first sight, one would expect to see. More than a surprising opinion, the paradox often points to a miracle---it makes visible that which one should not be able to see and which one is not able to see without astonishment...The paradox testifies...that what enters into visibility is that which one should not have encountered there: fire in water, divinity in humanity; the paradox is born from the intervention of the invisible in the visible...(1-2).

Visibility is not some chameleon that shape-shifts itself willy-nilly into the gaze of some, and not others. As Steinbock has noted, 'idolatry' emerges from within vertical experience, and takes the form of 'delimitation,' of foreclosing on verticality within the horizontal plane. The natural attitude, though, which is the posture within the horizontal plane, is already graced. Grace imbues all reality that presents on the horizontal plane with the possibility of verticality. The suppression of verticality then delimits grace, closes off the natural attitude to the grace that opens upon the vertical---idolatry---denies grace, denies that nature is imbued with grace, denies a 'graced nature.' When the posture of the horizontal 'will not see,' it denies the graced nature of the natural attitude and closes itself off from the paradox, which 'points to a miracle' that brings the invisible into visibility; such 'not-seeing' occludes the birth of the miracle, denying the appearance of the miracle-as-such.

This understanding of visibility, idolatry, and the horizontal would seem not to apply to the miracles of Jesus. Nearly everyone in the gospels acknowledged that something paradoxical and unusual was occurring in Jesus' presence. The event of the miracle was not questioned, but its source was questioned by some. That wondrous deeds were of God or the devil informed the natural attitude and the horizontal plane of the lifeworld in the Gospels. That God or the devil could work wondrous deeds required no 'departure' from the horizontal. That such deeds marked the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, the reality of the redemption through the God-man Jesus Christ, the reality of the Messiah already in the world certainly required the 'de-limitation' of grace, the discovery of graced nature that pointed to the vertical experience entailed in the miracle of the Incarnation.

As Marion points out, we should not, in the natural attitude normative for the horizontal plane, 'have encountered' the paradox of the Incarnation, the God-man, as evidenced by the miracles. Only in verticality, only where the invisible's 'intervention' makes visible the invisible, does one 'see' a miracle for what it is: a sign of the Kingdom, a sign of the Messiah, a sign of salvation and redemption. The pocketful of miracles (the finite number of miracles) that Jesus performs does not mark a fundamental change in nature, a fundamental change that the appearance of Meillassoux's virtual god would effect (that will have to wait for what comes after finitude). Rather, the semeia of the Gospels, the wondrous deeds of Jesus, are to be understood, not as the emergence of a new reality of a new universe with new laws and patterns, but as evidence within the vertical plane of experience of the Incarnation, that it is indeed the union, the solidarity of divinity with humanity, and the presence of salvation and redemption---the in-breaking of the divine into history.


  1. "Apart from the horizons of love and hope, and their orientations to the future and the other, miracles remain invisible."

    And ������������ the horizons of love and hope, and their orientations to the future and the other, miracles appear contradictory and faith shatteringly rare. The gestalt of rare miracles against a ubiquitous, mundane suffering cancels out the horizons in which you place them.

  2. I have another question: If God is absent from creation and creation is the signature of the creator, the presence of God's absence in the created order, then how does a miracle "work"? If they are not directly caused by God, but indirectly through secondary causes, what distinguishes a miracle from anything else in creation that has an indirect relationship with the creator?

    How, for instance, is the evolution of hominids different from bodily resurrection? Or virginal conception? What's the ultimate difference between nuclear fission and transubstantiation? If they are, what is the nature of that difference?

    There must be some significant exceptions with the way God generally relates to a finite natural order. What are they and how do you interpret those exceptions?