On Redeeming the Historical Road Trip: Don't Make Me Come Down There!
Who can hope to obtain proper concepts of the present, without knowing the future? --Johann Georg Hamann
If we consider the historical form of Jesus, we see that he cannot be understood in isolation, unlike, say, Buddha or Shankara, who divulge a message of purely vertical metaphysics which stands outside time. In fact, the same could be said of the Koran, and we can see how this leads to certain inevitable problems, i.e., either the devaluation of the temporal realm (as in Buddhism), or else the attempt to cease it altogether, so that we might all live shabbily ever after in a 9th century caliphate worse than death.
But Jesus appears within a dense network of earlier truths, of which he is said to be the "fulfillment." Ultimately, as we shall see, his form is very much temporal as opposed to spatial.
As such, as I mentioned in the new testavus, apprehending his form is much more analogous to hearing a symphony, which must be listened to in its entirety before we can know what it was about. You might say that the "future" of the symphony illuminates its past, and reveals the necessity of various passages which can only be tied together and "resolved" within time. (cf. The Tristan Chord for the most extreme case.)
This is quite unique among the world's revelations, because it is so entangled with history, which means that it somehow renders history -- which would otherwise be purely horizontal -- an extension, or expression, of the vertical. You might say that at the center of Jesus' mission, as it were, is the verticalizing of the horizontal, whereas for Buddha or Shankara, it would be simply escape from the horizontal. Whereas Christianity is like a symphony in which there is a serial articulation of the whole, eastern approaches would be more like a great painting which one leaps through and follows the celestial radiation directly back to its source.
(This is not necessarily to criticize the latter, just to highlight the differences; also, the later Bodhisattva principle involves a certain horizontalizing impulse, in the sense that the liberated person forgoes the vertical for the horizontal in order to devote his life to saving the damned, those deluded souls who are marooned in the purely horizontal. Thus, the Bodhisattva is in the world, no longer of it.)
As Balthasar explains, Christ's form is embedded "within a context of events which partly condition Jesus' historical person and which are partly conditioned and prompted by it." This is a rather interesting observation, because it means that, in the Incarnation, there is a certain "random" element. In other words, if God is going to submit himself to man and cast his pearls before swine, it means going the whole hog and also submitting himself to time, to history, and even to the random element that inevitably intrudes in the herebelow.
Indeed, without submitting to this random element, one would not be truly submitting to the real conditions of mankind. As Balthasar writes in A Theology of History, "In order to become manifest, the absolute uniqueness of God, uniting itself with the humanity of Jesus, makes use of the relative uniqueness of a particular historical personality..."
This then leads to the interesting question of how one conveys intrinsic and unchanging Truth within the context of historical change? Think about it. It would be analogous to incarnating as a metaphysics professor in a liberal university, where the only truth is that truth does not exist. But that would be the one place that would be most aching for the appearance of Truth, would it not, even if it meant being crucified by the inquisitors of political correctness? Indeed, how else to teach these devils that the crucifixion of Truth is the central truth -- and therefore, lie -- of the left?
It gets even more complicated, because if we are to accept the totality of revelation, then Jesus is the Total Truth who appears in the historical context of his own "partial truths" that had to first lay the groundwork for his own reception. I see that Balthasar is on the same page with me thus far:
"A statue can be placed anywhere; a symphony can be performed in any concert hall; a poem of Goethe's can be understood and enjoyed without any knowledge of its biographical context." But the form of Jesus "cannot be detached from the place in space and time in which it stands. He is what he is only by fulfilling, on the one hand, all the promises that point to him, and, on the other, by himself making promises which he will at some time fulfill."
Again, this is a fascinating thing to contemplate. It reminds me of how you can trace your family tree back so that it looks as if you are the final cause, the meaning, the fulfillment, the "end point" of all of those previous generations.
At the same time, you could reverse the image, so that a family tree grows into the future from your single point of departure. Thus we have the image of a point in the present, with two trees growing from it, one into the past, the other into the future. Therefore, you are the cause of both your ancestors and descendants.
It is as if Jesus does the same thing, except with all of history and all of mankind. In other words, all of history leads to his "point," and then flows into the future from that point. But where is the point? Is it his birth? His life? His teachings? His resurrection? His return?
It is somehow all of these things, not to mention the fact that, once he enters history, his causal power is far from exhausted, as he continues to exert a profound effect on people and events. The "whole line of development in the history of salvation is ordered toward himself as its climax and subjected to himself as the meaning which fulfills it..."
In this regard, Jesus doesn't just give meaning to history, but somehow "is himself history," or "the living center of history itself." Again, think of how different this is from situating the center in a particular point in space, such as Mecca, or the Scientology Celebrity Centre International in Hollywood.
As I have mentioned before, Jesus is more like a vertical depth charge dropped from on high into history, which then causes a kind of temporal lao tsunami, so that the waves from the original impact continue to lap upon the shore of the present. And the waves will bear the "imprint" of the original event, just as we can trace the present background radiation to the "big bang" at the origin of the horizontal cosmos.
This is again only fitting, if "the Word becoming flesh" implies the timeless vertical becoming horizontal. For, as Balthasar explains, "To the horizontal power with which he encompasses all time and rules all space 'even to the ends of the earth,' centering world history on himself, there corresponds the vertical power with which he makes the Father visible and with which he makes present, in his witness concerning the Father, the Father's witness to him."
What a marvelous paradox! Just yesterday I was thinking how different Christianity would be if, instead of truly submitting to the world, Jesus tried to "conquer" the world, à llah Mohammed. Obviously it would no longer be Christianity, for central to it is this idea that the Word becomes flesh not to overpower the world in the horizontal sense, but to redeem it.
Mariani refers to "Christ's Great Sacrifice, the ramifications of his radical self-emptying and humility, not grasping after what was his by right, but returning everything to the Father in an act of total self-emptying, even unto a criminal's death on the cross." What a strange God! Who would ever invent such a counter-intuitive story?
For the man who is spiritually existent, who is directed upon the whole of reality, in other words, for the man who philosophizes, this question of the end of history is, quite naturally, more pressing than the question of "what actually happened." --Josef Pieper, The End of Time