Monday, August 15, 2011

The Cosmic (M)Other


In Theo-Drama III, Balthasar touches on the very subject we've been discussing. In a section called Jesus' God-Consciousness and Its Historical Medium, he says that

"The issue is this: If Jesus' consciousness of an absolute (divine) mission is to coincide with his I-consciousness, how can the child Jesus ever have awakened to self-consciousness without simultaneously knowing of his mission -- at least implicitly?"

For example, "many a pious picture shows the little Child playing with pieces of wood in the form of a cross." More problematically, theologians have often attributed to Jesus a complete knowledge of his mission and destiny -- along with everything else knowable by man -- from the moment of Incarnation.

Perhaps not problematic to you, but I don't get that.

T-Aq went so far as to suggest that Jesus could not learn from men at all, but if this is the case, then in what way can it be said that he was human, since the essence of humanness is relationship and exchange with other persons?

Balthasar points out that this is the case of a scholastic a priori colliding with reality, for "unless a child is awakened to I-consciousness through the instrumentality of a Thou, it cannot become a human child at all."

No one can escape this principle without escaping from his humanity. Thus, "if it is essential for self-consciousness to be awakened by a 'thou' and subsequently initiated into a world of spiritual tradition," then "it follows that the 'I' who awakens the unique 'thou' of the Child Jesus must have a unique relationship to him."

This does not imply that Mary had foreknowledge of Jesus' mission, the unusual circumstances of his conception notwithstanding. But as I described in the book (subsection 3.2, The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby) -- well, let's just begin with that wise crack by Tolstoi, who said that "From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance."

Not only can we not exempt Jesus from this abysmal ("immeasurably great") developmental journey, but I would suggest that his many provocative statements about children and childhood -- quite unusual, if not unheard of, for the time -- suggest an acute awareness of the stakes. The fact that he is routinely depicted as an infant and a defender of children, and that he speaks of the virtues of childlike-ness, suggest that he was quite attuned to this reality, and that he didn't care who knew it.

Indeed, if we want to attribute to him a kind of super-human intelligence, then, with all due respect, it would actually be the opposite of what Thomas describes; that is, rather than being unable to learn from man, Jesus possessed great insight into every man's developmental roots in his own childhood. Why else put it in such vivid terms: It would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones.

As I wrote in the book, babies "interact with mothers in such a way as to use them as an 'auxiliary cortex' for the purpose of 'downloading programs from from her brain into the infant's brain.'"

Actually, this is slightly misleading, because prior to the downloading of any explicit "content," the baby takes in the whole maternal matrix (matrix = womb) -- the context rather than content -- which becomes the "background subject of primary identification." And this is, of course, where the deepest mind parasites get in.

As it so happens, I've been observing a particular mother who is extremely anxious but doesn't know it, and how she is unfortunately transmitting this to her son, whom she then must "protect" because of his identification with her anxiety," in a kind of closed intrapsychic circle.

The point is, if a mother is unable to think her thoughts, she will end up forcing her child to think them for her. But how can an infant possibly bear such thoughts? (BTW, if I had been a younger parent, I would have undoubtedly transmitted a lot more mind parasites into my son. As things stand, he doesn't seem to have any except for those he brought with him, plus the standard issue pests that come with being human.)

Back to Schönborn. He agrees that "Human awareness is inconceivable without relationships with others." We do not become self-aware "as a result of withdrawing all bridges to the outside and being with" ourselves. "There is no such thing as isolated self-awareness. Openenss to and dependence on others are an essential part of human self-awareness: first of all, to the mother, the first person to whom one relates."

I'm thinking about this for the first time, but it has always been recognized that the Incarnation has a relationship to History, in that it is as if the author of the world-historical play jumps down onto the stage and enters the action.

But for me, History is dependent upon psycho-developmental history. No other animal besides man has history, because no other animal has the open-ended psychological development resulting from his neoteny. Thus, not only is childhood critical to understanding man, but, in an important sense -- just as Jesus advised -- we remain children for life, in that we are always growing toward our nonlocal developmental telos.

Now, Ratzinger and other esteemed theologians suggest that Jesus is, in a sense, the "end made middle," or the fulfillment of history crashing into time. But what if we apply the same eschatology to personal history? This doesn't really require much of a leap, given that Jesus is, so to speak, God's icon of man, of which we are more or less pale reflections.

But in any event, rather than providing us with a model of ontological completeness, Jesus clearly provides a model of dependence, relationship, and obedience (to the Father). Thus, of all people, he would be the last one to think of as closed off to others.

Schönborn reminds us that "every human self-awareness is mediated and not unmediated," and that "only in knowing other people and things, and only by this means, do we know ourselves." So, "In that sense, we may and must assume that Jesus came to know himself through others, and, like any child, especially through his mother."

It is quite the opposite of Sartre's claim that "hell is other people." For hell is no other people -- no relationships -- precisely.

8 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

I've been observing a particular mother ....

It's always hard to see that happening, especially since for most of us, all we can do is watch the disaster slowly unfold.

Re. Jesus' psycho-developmental history, now that I am a parent I don't see how he could have been other than the standard infant, toddler, child, etc. The experience of childhood is the very foundation of human life. Had he skipped that part, by being born with full knowledge of everything all at once, he would have been something, but not in any way human. And it would have been rather difficult for Mary to be any kind of a mother in such a circumstance; how could anyone bear to "raise" such a child?

8/15/2011 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren".

I really don't believe it was first in Gethsemane that Jesus was made like unto his brethren. That runs counter to the whole spirit of it.

8/15/2011 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

T-Aq went so far as to suggest that Jesus could not learn from men at all, but if this is the case, then in what way can it be said that he was human, since the essence of humanness is relationship and exchange with other persons?

Maybe I'm making too big of a leap, but if T-Aq was right, why would Jesus have wept? He would have had nothing to learn from Lazarus, no need to relate with him or his sisters with any particular depth, and would have been unsurprised at the news of Lazarus' death. If he had nothing to learn from man, the tears would have been an act, just for show; in other words, on some level they would have been a lie.

***

And speaking of the mother, it seems apropos that today is the feast of the Assumption. Benedict has a few thoughts...

8/15/2011 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

hell is other people
if youre not a people-person
loneliness is hell if you are*
WHI-ANSWEr telemarketers?
a cosmic misunderstanding
is implicit in Jesus' message
like ground-up guts & spices
are implicit in sausage

wv
WHIANSWE

*uh, can i choose the people?...and change my mind later?

8/15/2011 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Indeed, if we want to attribute to him a kind of super-human intelligence, then, with all due respect, it would actually be the opposite of what Thomas describes; that is, rather than being unable to learn from man, Jesus possessed great insight into every man's developmental roots in his own childhood. Why else put it in such vivid terms: It would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones."

That makes sense. Particularly, as you mentioned, given the context of those times and the way children were usually not valued nearly as much as adults.

Outstanding series and post, Bob! :^)

8/15/2011 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Hell is other liberal people
Hell is other peoples' music, choice in 'what to watch'

Grin & berous

8/16/2011 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"... it would actually be the opposite of what Thomas describes; that is, rather than being unable to learn from man, Jesus possessed great insight into every man's developmental roots in his own childhood. Why else put it in such vivid terms: It would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones."

Not to be disrespectful or antagonize anyone, but... if you're God, why bother with being born, if there wasn't something of value to be gained through the process? Surely the almighty could simply have waved the wand and said 'Instantiate!' to create a perfect body to amble about in that would have worked just fine for spreading his message... unless there is something about being born of a woman and growing from child to man, that was vital to becoming human? Right? Even vital to becoming the Son of Man, right?

"Actually, this is slightly misleading, because prior to the downloading of any explicit "content," the baby takes in the whole maternal matrix (matrix = womb) -- the context rather than content -- which becomes the "background subject of primary identification." And this is, of course, where the deepest mind parasites get in."

Julie's comment last week about, I don't remember the wording, but the gist was, 'If Mary hadn't been of sound mind, spirit and body, the incarnation would have been 'inconceivable'', is still thrumming around in my noggin, and it found a few harmonies with this.

"It is quite the opposite of Sartre's claim that "hell is other people." For hell is no other people -- no relationships -- precisely. "

I suspect that hell for Sarte, was what other people unavoidably showed him about himself.

8/16/2011 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I suspect that hell for Sarte, was what other people unavoidably showed him about himself.

I suspect you are quite right.

8/18/2011 03:00:00 PM  

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