Michael Anthony Novak
THEO 384–Von Balthasar Seminar
05 April 2004
Notes for Theo-Drama III: Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ, pp. 447-535
III. Theological Persons
A. The Individual
1. The Pathos of the Christian Individual
The individual is considered in response to Christ—the individual who is unique in his universality—after considering Woman and Community as prior respondents. The “pathos” of the Christian individual is in being a disciple: being a person in Christ—as we have explored—now considered in light of Christ’s individuality and our being in that. (447) Christ is “utterly lonely” and this is—at some level—utterly foundational for the Church. (448)
a. Community and Mission
Two things characterize the Church: being the Community of Love and the outward sending of Mission. (448) Paul incorporates his communities into his mission as an act of love, uniting the two. And a line of expectation of this love continues from the leader to the community to the individual. (449) Christ mediates us to the Body, rather than the Church mediating us to Christ. The community rests on a trinitarian base: the interpersonal is born from that. And the individual person is fashioned in the interpersonal matrix. The paradox is then that the most fruitful point for the Christian (objectively) is often (as for Christ) the (subjectively) most solitary and even apparently-fruitless. (450) Jesus’ trinitarian fellowship is the origin of the fellowship of the Church, both with one another and with God. (451) We act for fellowship with God and gain fellowship with each other. [To try to go the other way will end in a “Social Gospel”-type error.] (452)
b. The Situation of the Witness
The idea that the Church arises from the trinitarian relationship with God does not contradict the idea that the Church is a reality preceding its members, since it has its origin in Mary. We find here a duality: The Church represents God and the Church holds no divine mysteries in secret. So anyone with the faith, hope and love of a believer may find themselves representing the Church as a whole. (452) The saints, both in active and contemplative modes, successfully represent the Church in their actions or ways—their witness. “Witness” is the individual’s response to Christ in the name of the Church. The Church is then concentrated in the individual. There are dangers, then, when the Church is unclear in its call. (453) The most tragic situations are when the sole individual must represent the Church without the Church herself as a support. In such a case the desire to follow God—without recourse to the Church—is sufficient for the Spirit to the individual’s guarantor. (454) It is a harder dramatic point to be forsaken by a flawed Church than to be martyred from outside the Church. Teresa chose the harder (and proper, by keeping dramatic tension) road than Luther by remaining in the Church. [How is the “real Church” decided? Both sides of our current poles would claim this reasoning as their own, for example.] (455) The dramatic danger in the confrontation between a saint and a culture is secularization into that culture.
2. The Individual in the World
What of the “post-Christian” and their relatedness to Christ, in whom alone they can become a person? Von Balthasar rejects Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” category. (456) Rahner’s notion gives too much credit and content to a generic grace in the lives of all—effectively separate from Christ. Despite the distortions of the Enlightenment’s concept of freedom as an “autonomy,” man’s actual experience of freedom has trinitarian and christological elements latent in it. The primal act of the spiritual life is being addressed by another (by a “Thou”). This contains three elements: 1) Awareness that being a self has an “ontological indebtedness” inherent to it. (457) As finite beings we can participate in freedom: we never “own” it. 2) The roots of freedom are the roots of Being. And this is not in the human subject, but is Gift. I do not fully possess my own subjectivity without leaving open the space for all others. 3) The gift of freedom given by the Other (“Thou”) implies a task or mission. I have been given an answer and now owe one. Freedom is to be transformed and given back—and thus, paradoxically, never lost.
These three elements form an ontology of finite freedom in accord with Thomas’ fundamental insight in his real distinction between esse and essentia and also with modern personalism, once we add Augustine’s vision of God in creation. (458) Only the Christian picture of God gives us a ground for real freedom and being. (459) A belief in natural freedom and love necessarily raises the challenge of an Absolute freedom and love: and of faith in it. There are three conceptual steps necessary for this life-decision of faith to be made:
1) There must be a decision for “religion” in the face of positivism and secularism, whatever “religion” entails. 2) The question of which religion must be honestly faced. (460) 3) The criteria by which the qualitatively different epiphany of Christ can be seen must be made clear. A great caution: The biggest influence on the receptivity of Christianity is in Christianity as it is seen to be lived out. “Sola Scriptura,” he notes, is usually insufficient. (461)
IV. Angels and Demons
A. Preliminary Questions
Is this the end of the list of the dramatis personae? We enter into an area of some question, here. The dual danger of which is denial and undue fascination. Human freedom entails direct contact with God—intermediaries are not required. The Drama of God and Man, centered in Christ, is the core—a secondary plot is unneeded. (465) Yet there are bits of data or rumours of other powers. Can these powers be aspects of already-established characters? (God or man?) References to these various beings are limited and unclear. Von Balthasar notes that the concept of these beings aligns with post-Enlightenment to the darker areas of the human psyche. (466) A note is also made of artists in a secular world turning to the angelic symbol—among others—as an image of the transcendent. (467) There is a more consistent consciousness of confrontation with the demonic.
What are these powers? The remarks thus far neither suppress or solve this question. He assumes that Scripture is purposefully vague on these matters. In lieu of a systematic doctrine, we have four approaches to the matter: 1) Popular demythologization. (469) 2) A kind of concerned or sympathetic agnosticism. (470)
3) Barth’s idea of the demonic as a mischievous nothingness in history (which is being?) overcome by Christ.
4) A kind of via negativa asking “how much will be lost in Christian revelation if we jettison all this material,” and judging it accordingly. (471) Ultimately we have a struggle between a primarily speculative and a primarily biblical approach. (472)
B. The Biblical Witness and Speculation
God is “in the world” in the Hebrew setting of this drama, in which there are two end of the stage: heaven and earth. God is not alone in heaven, even in the time of the Patriarchs. (473) The Hebrew world of Heaven and Earth in Contact is one in which Jesus moves, but where angels fade into the background near him, whereas the disruptive forces move to the fore. (475) Reserving judgment on demonic/angelic mode of being, can the visible history of the development of thought on them be a kind of “development of doctrine,” a praeparatio evangelica? (476) It is in fact a central, and not a “mythological,” aspect of Jesus’ mission to do battle against these powers of temptation—and to exhort, equip and pray for others to do so as well.
Looking at this development in biblical revelation and asking what these power are, we find two options:
1) Fallen angels. This option is strongly opposed by Barth’s notion (pp. 470-471) of a “nothingness” which is sympathetic to a classical OT reading. (478) Barth had to insist that angels and demons did not share a common nature: “demons” could be “nothingness,” then, while angels could be something. (479) But is there not a contradiction in Barth’s angelology in that one can perform personal acts in more perfection without having a cooperating freedom? (480) Tradition unanimously rejects the idea of a spiritual creature incapable of sinning. (481) The idea of any spiritual creature having to have personal freedom (to say yes or no to God) is “incontrovertible” as long as the distinction between nature (what distinguishes the creature from God) and supernatural vocation/endowment is held. (482) In Barth, since angels cannot come into contact with “nothingness,” the can also have no contact with sinful man. For Von Balthasar, “nothingness” as a theologoumenon is rejected. (483) “Nothingness” in Barth is the “impossible possibility” excluded by Christ on the Cross. “Nothingness” is rejected as being a “meta-concept” behind evil. (484) That would be a return to the satan of the OT as divine quality—but nothingness or evil is not simply God seen in relief. Christ in biblical testimony is much more serious about this as a reality. (485) We are responsible to the biblical concreteness of this testimony. The demonic cannot be identified with nor separated from man’s sins. We must start from the NT images. 2) The other notion of the demonic could be a kind of negative human personal and collective unconscious brought about by their own rejection of God. (486) This is rejected as being merely a hybrid of a psychological description of the result of evil and an abstraction of the NT account, thus returning us to it. (487) Scripture gives enough weight to the “fall of the angels” for us to have to consider them as dramatis personae. (488)
C. Dramatis Personae?
Problem: “person” is a trinitarian/christological concept in Christ, applied analogously to those subjects “in Christ.” Angels, with their free choice toward God, can be included in the use of the term. Are they also dramatis personae? It is not their drama—the drama is that of God and Man. [Why not “God and Creation?”] (489) Dramatically, and theologically, he sees the likelihood of some angels out of pride refusing to bow to a God who would incarnate himself. This would bind everything to the drama of the Cross. (491) Connection of Christ to the angels is implicit, but obscured by Neoplatonism, as in Thomas, where angels are in reference not to Christ, but to radiated stages of a universal perfection. (492) Angels as dramatis personae cannot have the definition of their being deduced from the dramatic action itself. (493) Angels are transparent actors [consider the “messengers” of Shakespeare] and can represent heaven’s whole approach, but fade to the background in the company of the principle actor. Their heavenly mission and liturgy are united. (494)
What is the role and nature of the demonic, then? (495) It is questionable whether demonic can be regarded as theological persons. The demonic is that which has turned away from its own personhood in God. (496) Again, there is a restraint from a systematizing attempt. It would seem likely that there could be no union of demonic powers, as is often portrayed, and that there would be a dissolving sense of personality among them. (498) He turns to Paul as a road to insight. Paul still speaks in difficult terms of “powers.” These powers hold sway over the cosmos until the time of Christ. (499) Paul exhibits a reluctance to speak of the powers, but Christ’s victory over them is described in a number of ways. (500) Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is an exaltation of Him over all such powers, and is far more worthy of Paul’s attention. (501)
V. Deus Trinitas
A. The Living God and the Drama
The Trinity is implied in Jesus’ identity. There are three reasons to conclude this material with this matter: First, the question of whether or not God can enter the world and its drama without becoming mythological? Second, the question of whether we can apply the Christological concept of “person” to the triune God, and Third, the question of whether the life of the triune God expresses itself in history/drama. (505)
1. The Economic and the Absolute Trinity
God can appear in the play, in Christ, as he portrays himself. The Father is always Jesus’ sold referent. Jesus as this Truth, is, however, an intra-divine phenomenon and not an outwardly-observable, neutrally-accessible object of contemplation. The Spirit is required for real access. Revelation in Christ is full and exhaustive. (506) Revelation in Christ is also public—it is not a mystery religion. There are dangers in both the failure to see Christ at all, and in the failure to see Christ truly as the revelation of God, and instead through some set of social, political, anthropological terms, etc.. (507) In dramatic terms, of persons not being defined in isolation from their dramatic action, he agrees with Rahner’s axiom that “the immanent trinity is the economic trinity, and vice versa.” Two things follow: 1) the limits of non-economic analogies for the Trinity and 2) the identification of immanent and economic cannot be held to go so far as to make the economic trinity (and thereby creation) necessary. Two things are proclaimed: 1) God is involved with the world for salvation. (508) 2) It is as God that the Three are involved: God is love—the fullness, foundation, and reality of personhood.
2. The Person and the Trinity
Christ is the Person because in him self-consciousness co-incides with universal mission. Others can be in this “prime” Person by identifying their missions within the mission of Christ. It would be wrong to conclude that “person” can only be a finite term. (509) Only a divine being can do the work of salvation. Only a human being can be the enactor of salvation, in solidarity with all humans. A polarity in God is revealed in sending and in being-sent. How can the Incarnated be acting in obedience if it was his decision, too? Obedience is in the form of prayer and the “duty” of discernment and response. (510) Within the reciprocity of this “I-Thou” relationship, the “We” is discerned, which in God can only be personal: the Augustinian theology of the Holy Spirit. “Person” is the appropriate term because there is no need to elevate it above the Person of Christ who is in the reciprocal web of these divine relationships.
3. The Course of the Drama and the Trinity
Supposing a progressive revelation of the Trinity as origin and goal of the drama can take two forms: the first is that the triune mystery could become more clear as the drama unfolds. (511) But Von Balthasar rejects the idea that the Trinity is revealed anywhere but in Christ. The second form would be that the individual characters of the Trinity might take the stage in successive dispensations, as proposed by Joachim of Fiore. However, the very notion of perichoresis seems to present a problem for that notion. (512) The God of the OT was the triune God—not the Father, who is only revealed by Christ and the Spirit. [Is it so clear-cut?] We must also take into account that the mission of the Son remains infinite in effect, likewise for the Spirit, and that for those in Christ, there is an infinite growth and deepening possible in the infinite God. (513). God is both above and in the drama: transcendent above and immanent in creation. (514)
B. From the Person of Christ to the Personal Trinity
1. From the Mission of Jesus to the Son
Reflecting more deeply on the preceding: the farther we go into Christ’s consciousness, the farther we go into his divinity and into the Trinity. “Mission” is a concept that unites both of these. “Mission” highlights both the sublimity and the lowliness of Christ on the human level—but what about on the divine level of the one-who-sends Christ on his mission? Von Balthasar says that the Sender’s sending reveals both, too. (515) [We might simply note the kenotic nature of divine love here, too.] The very notion of salvation is what is at stake: The “Ambassador” must be identified with the lowly. He must also be aware of the mission—prior to its having been given. (Pre-existence) It must be said that both: 1) all is initiated by the Father and that 2) the Three always act together in perfect love. (516) Capacity—not just intention—had to be an aspect of the Redeemer or any “symbolic” act of redemption would have been sufficient for God’s intention. So there must be an identity between acceptance and execution of the mission in obedience, showing the identity of Christ with both God and Man. (517) Christ’s acceptance and execution of his mission is the Father’s love of creation. The creating Father is followed backwards to the generating Father. The meaning of “fatherhood” in the eternal realm is revealed as total kenosis. (518) The Son perfectly reflects God in this. The Son does the Father’s works, and these are also the Son’s works. (519)
2. From the Mission of the Son to the Spirit
Jesus does not obey as man and act in sovereign freedom as God: he does both because he is both. He’s not two personas. The Spirit is in Christ without measure, unlike the prophets. (520) Christ is obedient to the Spirit as the manifest presence of his mission. The being of the Spirit in him is the economic form of the filioque. The Spirit comes down on Jesus from the Father and in Jesus the Spirit is in full response to the Father. The Spirit is given in a new way to people only when the economic, temporal response of the Son is complete. (521) The “trinitarian inversion” spoken of earlier (pp.189-191) is enacted in prayer, where the Son in the Spirit asks to be able to receive the Father’s will. [To simply do no more than to be the Son in history.] The Spirit becomes a variable mode of access to the Father for the Son, depending on the demands of the mission—ranging from the Transfiguration to the forsakenness on the Cross. (522) There is no “reversion” of the “trinitarian inversion” after the resurrection: it is simply in the same way eternally what was visible temporally. (523)
C. The Trinity’s Presence in the World Drama
1. “Likeness” in the “Image”
The triune God does not appear on stage with characters, but in them. The image of God in them allows this, even with the distorted pursuits of the Good, which are our sins. The dissimilarity of creatures with God tends to overwhelm the similarity in our view. (525) One can look for the trinitarian image in spiritual creatures, as Augustine did, in the inner structure of the created spirit. The other way is in an inter-personal exchange leading to a “we” which transcends the two egos involved, as in the family. (cf. Note 7, p. 459) (526) The two schema are inadequate in themselves and are best utilized in conjunction. We are images of God that we might become (theological) persons. In becoming persons, we are “de-privatized” and an ontological change occurs making us homo ecclesiasticus by the universalizing effect of the life of God in us. (527) Grace in us, following the pattern of our prototype, Jesus, allows the divine life for which we are intended to actually bloom within us. After this, it is impossible to distinguish which of the three Persons are active in us: at some level, they are all necessarily part of that life which the human gains. (528) He notes that “mission” is not used in an elitist way, but that all graces imply missions.
2. Transcendence and Immanence
Again, he wants to answer the question of whether God remains above the drama or in it. Both “extremes” are rejected, and the third way—the way of the Trinity—is cited as getting to the truth in both prior ways. There are three reasons for this. 1) God as the total fullness of all reality does not need creation, and creates it freely. It is not his own “process” or being. 2) Our experience has shown us that God is able to enter the drama. (529) Even the Father is thoroughly involved in the drama. 3) There is here a realization of God even being able to simultaneously remain in Himself and to step away from Himself: an utter identification with humanity, even to the point of entering the anti-divine. A purely transcendent God would be a inaccessible mystery. (530) A purely immanent God would be a god, or a creature, not God. God embraces both.
3. The Transition to the Drama
The Christian God by being able to be the “One,” the “Other,” and the “Unifying” is the most dramatic of all the gods. In then creating a stage with others on it, he then becomes even more dramatic. (531) What takes place in this world is neither feeling nor narration, but simply “action.” He recalls an earlier section of the Theo-Drama where he set forth two triads: the triad of dramatic creativity (author, actor, director) and of dramatic realization (presentation, audience, horizon) both of which he claims are rendered most clearly in trinitarian interpretation. The first triad gave a perfect metaphor for the economic trinity. (532) The Author is clearly the Father. The Actor’s (Christ’s) mission and role/persona was sufficient to bring as many more players onto the stage as were willing. In the context of the three elements of dramatic realization, the Director (Holy Spirit) is able to bring the Author’s text into the actuality of performance by the sensitive leading and prompting of the cast. (533) The second triad is only partially distinguishable from the first. The audience are primarily—but not entirely—spectators, as they all get on stage at some occasion or other, having some response to make. The play’s horizon of meaning is widened beyond the baffling pagan world of the gods and pitiless fate, (534) to the startling “event” of the drama of the economic Trinity—of the Father not sitting unmoved above the action, but bending down to the suffering creature in the form of the Son and the Spirit. The first triad reveals the immanent-economic Trinity; the second is the way in which the Trinity draws the world drama into itself. (535)