Son of God? Tell it to the Pagans!
One of the obvious tensions in early Christology resulted from the fact that these were Jews, even devout ones. "Christian" was not a self-designation, but a Roman epithet for these eccentric and annoying meshugeners.
True, they were messianic Jews -- but that can be said of all Jews, since being a Jew means being always on the lookout for his appearance. The problem was that the résumé of this particular candidate in no way met expectations. More problematically, there was nothing in existing Judaism permitting the messiah -- or any other man, for that matter -- to be the "son of God." Judaism is not some kind of pagan fertility cult.
Remember, these were strict monotheists. There was nothing kosher, to put it mildly, about the idea of God being a man, becoming a man, or appearing in the form of a man: Er, no. We don't do that. That is for the superstitious Romans who make up silly stories and pretend their Caesars are gods.
Which is perhaps why the story generally went down easier with the goyim, but often at the expense of distorting it with a pagan, not Jewish, mentality. Many of the heresies that had to be struck down over the centuries were a result of thought that was not properly Christian -- which was in the process of development -- and certainly not Jewish, but rather, pagan. No different from today.
In fact, I had this very conversation with a Jewish relative a couple of months ago, who said she had no difficulty with the idea of Jesus as a prophet or moral teacher, but that the second commandment was an insurmountable obstacle to ever regarding him as God. Can't go there. Monotheism is monotheism, and idolatry is idolatry.
She is, of course, correct. Except that she has erected a false dichotomy of Jewish-pagan, rather than the complementarity, or organicity, of Jewish-Christian. This is in no way to imply that she should abandon Judaism, only to say that in order to understand Christianity, one must look at it through its own categories (some of which address precisely the issues she raises).
Ironically, the reality, in our opinion, only adds to the credibility of the gospels, since only a rather inattentive or frankly oblivious Jew would try to convince other Jews with a tall tale calculated to repel them. While you're at it, might as well say the messiah is a bacon-loving polygamist who sacrifices children to Ba'al. If you're going to make something up, why not at least make it plausible -- or even just palatable -- to your audience?
But as we were discussing yesterday, this is precisely why it took hundreds of years to sort this all out, and to square monotheism with the circle of trinitarianism -- which is obviously not tri-theism, God forbid!
The ultimate result was a delicate balance that preserves a strict monotheism while allowing the Incarnation. Just the fact that it took so long to fine-tune this theology shows how seriously these early theologians took the connection to Judaism.
On to the main program. I'm going to skip straight to the part of the book that most caught my attention and made my eyes bug out of my head, carom off the page, and shoot back into their sockets. I should point out that I haven't yet thought about the implications. I just knew that there were some implications, and that the passage would make for good blogfodder. I put my mind "on hold" until I could post about it, so the bobservations could be freshly half-baked, as usual.
Schönborn reviews Karl Rahner's attempt to grapple with the question of what Jesus' mentality must have been like. Is there any earthly analogue that allows us to at least imagine what it must have been like? After all, it is said that he was "true man." That being the case, how can this be reconciled with being "true God"?
In practical, everyday terms, what is it like to have "two natures"? Does this mean he's conflicted, like any other neurotic with competing agendas? Does the man know what the God is up to? If so, then what's the big deal about the Passion? Doesn't he know it will all turn out well in the end? Isn't he omniscient?
These might seem like silly questions, but they were precisely the sort of questions that have been asked since the beginning. You can just say, as many people do, that the questions are not susceptible to any rationalistic answers, and that it's just a mystery. Fine. But is this really a satisfactory answer?
More to the point, doesn't this create a huge barrier between us and Jesus, when there is supposed to be not just "companionship," but intimacy? How can one be intimate with someone whose mentality we cannot possibly understand? How may we approach someone who is so elevated, so brilliant, so lofty, that we are not worthy of him -- like the pagan godman Obama, who is barefootin' while the Dow burns?
Rahner's analysis of this question is quite "modern" -- and I mean that in a good way -- in that it takes advantage of just how much more we know about the mind than was known in "pre-critical" times (without tossing out what moderns have forgotten!).
For example, he begins with the critical idea that consciousness is never a kind of one-dimensional phenomenon. Rather, it is a "many-tiered structure" in which "at any given point in time man will consciously know some facts, but unconsciously know others" (emphasis mine).
And this doesn't just go for the "Freudian" or "pathological" unconscious, important though that may be. Rather, it would also apply to the scientific, cultural, historical, religious, and any other kind of unconscious -- which should really be called unConscious, since there is nothing "un" about it. Rather, it is quite conscious, only operating outside the realm of immediate ego-accessiblilty.
Think, for example, of one of our foundational thinkers, Michael Polanyi, and his theory of tacit knowledge. As science advances -- and in order for it to advance! -- more and more knowledge is assimilated and becomes "tacit." This knowledge -- or paradigm, really -- becomes an unConscious tool to discover new knowledge, similar to how a blind man uses a cane to probe his surroundings.
In so doing, the blind man is not consciously aware of the sensations in his hand, the only place where sensations are actually occurring. These sensations are instantaneously converted by the brain into a projected map of the space surrounding him. Indeed, if he should focus upon the hand -- the "explicit" knowledge -- then the world around him collapses and shrinks correspondingly.
If you want to know why the world of secular materialists and other flatlanders is so "small" and cramped, this is why. Like dogs, they sniff the finger pointing at the moon.
Note that any knowledge, any sensation, any thought, any conscious moment, must take place within a context of consciousness-as-such, a kind of space or sensorium for the play of thought.
And yet, can there be any kind of essential division between thinker and thought, between consciousness and its content? Or is it analogous to physical space, in which -- in a post-relativistic universe -- things are not just unproblematically in space but of it?
Grotstein calls this greater space the "background object of primary identification." It precedes us, in the sense that this is the intersubjective space we share not just with the m(O)ther, but with the cosmos -- and with all living beings. And unfortunately, things can go disastrously awry in the developmental journey from background object of primary identification to foreground subject of egoic identification, but that is the subject of a different post.
Only a "small" "part" of our consciousness is, or can be, of the self-reflexive variety, or present at any given moment. "Beyond that, there is a broad area of the subconscious, to which modern psychology devotes a great deal of research. Yet there is also a dimension, too much neglected by psychology, the 'superconscious,'" which is "a sphere of consciousness that is qualitatively different from the rational-objective consciousness" (Schönborn, emphasis mine).
Schönborn continues: "The superconscious [I would prefer "supra" conscious, or the more neutral "upper vertical"] is simply the constantly active spiritual dimension of the human soul, the original and life-giving source of any of its intellectual activity, [the] source of artistic 'inspirations' and of the great moral choices. Without being able itself to be the subject of discussion as such, the superconscious is the hidden source of every conscious activity of man" (ibid, emphasis mine).
Here I think Rahner has committed a subtle error that conflates the space of O with its content or structure -- like confusing the ocean and the fish who live there. But he is surely correct that, just as there is a constantly active unConscious, there is a ceaselessly active supraConscious -- even though, at the same time, there can be no ontological division between the two, owing to the intrinsic oneness of O.
And this leads straight to a way of understanding -- or at least imagining -- Jesus' mentality. For "The analogy with the superconscious allows us to form an idea of the simultaneous existence of two levels of consciousness, in which the upper level does not abolish the activity proper to the lower, but strengthens and guides it" (ibid.).
This is a good place to pause. To be continued....