Friday, August 05, 2011

Son of God? Tell it to the Pagans!

A brief aside before we proceed into the meat of the post.

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....


mushroom said...

The God-nature that Jesus had may be the most noticeable or easily emphasized difference with us, yet the difference that makes the difference for us is what He did not have. A certain over-development we have that must be dealt with was lacking in Christ. Thus, at times, the disciples and His own family thought Him naive or even insane.

julie said...

O! Yes, I can see why that would make your eyes bug off the page.

Only a "small" "part" or our consciousness is, or can be, of the self-reflexive variety, or present at any given moment.

Several days ago, a commenter (Cond001?) talked about how the repetitive process of learning music usually made him hate the songs he was learning. It struck me, because I often find the opposite to be true, particularly if a piece is challenging at the beginning to where it's hard to know how it'll sound when it's right. But then I also have what seems a peculiar way of learning things; I memorize them quickly compared to other people, but not entirely consciously, and so quite often I'll be just as surprised as the audience about what comes next, even though I "know" it perfectly well. The advantage, while I was in choir, is that I was able to still get lost in the music, and play with it, and be present in it, more often than not, in a way that the people around me rarely seemed to be. So by concert time, most of them were still singing with their noses in their scores. Or in terms of the post, they were still focused on their hands instead of trusting in the cane.

(I hope you'll pardon the self-reference, it's just that I don't know of many people who actively [or "consciously"?] function the way I do, but the post described it quite well.)

John Lien said...

"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"

I was thinking something similar/simpler yeaterday. As I learn a tune on the Guitar, what is originally a consciousness of picking each string becomes more and more unconscious to the point that playing becomes something where my mind is acting like a conductor. I start thinking, "do this part, and now do this part" etc. Where the parts become unconscious acts. I guess one can only be so conscious

OT. I had to kill a young raccoon Monday morning that snuck into the chicken coop before we closed the door late Sunday. Broke my and my Wife's heart to do so. Sorry, fellow coons!

julie said...

John - Re. the guitar, yes, that's something like what I was talking about. Once you learn it, you can "let go" of the process of making a sound, and just make the sound.

John Lien said...

@julie. Yeah, I dig it. Then you can enjoy it again.

julie said...

Must have been you I was thinking of, and not Cond...

Gagdad Bob said...


We stopped sacrificing raccoons after Toots Mondello and Herman Hildebrand hammered out the new covenant, or membership requirements.

John Lien said...

@Bob. Good to know! Their cute/calorie ratio is too high to "want" to kill them as opposed to "have" to kill.

By the way, those membership dues are a bargain.

Gagdad Bob said...

True, but you still need that vocational or high school diploma. They didn't want to set the bar too low.

Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, clown or bartending college have been ruled acceptable.

Dougman said...

I was voted class clown in seventh grade. Does that count?

Dougman said...

By the way, everyone who hasn't heard Julie sing. She has a beautiful voice!

Gagdad Bob said...

Some very intelligent responses to this leftist crank who believes people with a different economic theory are terrorists. My favorite might be this one, because it reminds me of our troll:

'To all of you who have posted long arguments explaining why this person is uncivil and downright wrong: I admire your tenacity. However, you must surely be aware by now that she is utterly incapable of processing your information. She is so certain of her own righteousness that to even admit the possibility that her “enemies” might be acting in good faith, much less might be correctly acting in good faith with regard to the debt, would cause her entire worldview to come crashing down. Understand that government policy is not, to her, a matter of government, but of religion, and that her entire self-image as a “good person” rests on the idea that she favors big government programs to “help those who are less fortunate.” She cannot allow the possibility that “good people” might NOT favor these programs, because then her god, the State, might not be real, and she might actually be required to rethink some of her positions. God, er, State, forbid! Oh, and the only sin recognized in this religion is hypocrisy. Therefore, she HAS to double down on the claim that she was merely speaking the truth, not being uncivil, because then she might be a HYPOCRITE! EEK!!"'

julie said...

Love the responses there. What a tw- er, twit.

Gandalin said...


Are you sure that the early Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem held a Trinitarian concept of Deity and believed that Messiah Jesus was Divine? As recorded in the Gospels, did Jesus preach a Trinitarian Deity, and did he claim to be God?

Note that recent developments within certain Chassidic communities suggest that, at least in our era, the attribution of messianic or even semi-Divine or Divine status to a human leader by Jews is not altogether far-fetched.

Gagdad Bob said...


That's just it -- the purpose of the councils, beginning in 325, was to understand this conundrum of God/Son of God, while preserving monotheism. The book gets into the whole, sometimes boring, history.

And yes, there's nothing in Judaism that would forbid the idea of a divinized soul, a "Jewish saint," of which there are many. Indeed, such souls are the best witness and "fruit" of the revelation. The problem is the idea of the one and only-begotten Son of God. That's a tricky one to reconcile with everything, not just Judaism.

julie said...

Off topic again, this is rather alarming for anyone with an insulin pump. Or any remotely activated device implanted in the body, for that matter.

Magnus Itland said...

When a Christian experiences the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this does not make him an instant Christ, obviously. (There was a heresy around here about a century ago in which a number of people believed something similar to that.)

In practice, a process of integration commences, right? In which only one part changes, the human, and an individual portion of Divine Nature comes to be incarnate, which is by necessity not a new god but is still, nevertheless, divine.

From what I gather, this is a partial incarnation of Christ - again, although it would sound strange to call it a reincarnation - and even all of the Church is merely a body of Christ, not a fourth person of God.

So this means that a bunch of you probably have some idea of what it means to be Jesus, albeit only in part. The Church as a whole has a better idea of it again, thus the hint that it is only with all the saints that we may understand the various dimensions.

Anyway, I would prefer if you were to tell me, rather than the other way around. This must be familiar to those of you who are long-time Christians?

Gandalin said...

Thanks, Bob. I am aware although not fully fluent in the history of the Councils, and of how different Churches peeled off because of differences of opinions about the two natures.

And as you rightly respond, as I hinted, many of the same questions regarding the nature of a Divine nature in what appears to be a human nature are surfacing in the theological discussions of some groups within the Chabad movement.

Not to mention the concept of the "Christs inferieurs" to which Apollinaire refers.

I suppose I should turn back to the accounts of the Councils in order to understand the Scriptural basis for the positions discussed, particularly the position that became recognized as orthodox.

With respect, I continue to think that the message conveyed in the Sermon on the Mount does not necessarily imply the theology of St. Paul.

mushroom said...

Anyway, I would prefer if you were to tell me, rather than the other way around.

You know how it is, Magnus. They told me then they had to kill me.

mushroom said...

My son has an insulin pump and he has been trying to talk my wife into getting one. Now she has one more reason to, uh, stick with the needles.

mushroom said...

With respect, I continue to think that the message conveyed in the Sermon on the Mount does not necessarily imply the theology of St. Paul.

Gandalin, you are absolutely right about that. However, it becomes the foundation for it. You might look at Romans chapter 7 as Paul's admission that the Sermon on the Mount was beyond him. It is the realization by the ultimate Pharisee that his discipline could control his behavior but not his heart.

julie said...

Mushroom, re. the pump - of course, the fact that it's possible to hack them says nothing about the likelihood that someone will. It's a pretty specialized sort of knowledge, I should think. It would take a penchant for a very particular sort of mischief for someone to go around hacking people's medical devices.

Of greater concern might be the possibility that at some point, control of the pump could be maintained by someone other than the patient, whether or not the patient consented, but again I don't know how likely that is. Unless one's medical care is being paid for by the everloving State.

SippicanCottage said...

I don't know about any of that, but I heard a Raspberries song today, and immediately thought of Bob.

Bob matters.

Gagdad Bob said...

Why people think of things other than Bob when they hear a Raspberries song has always puzzled me.

julie said...

Never heard of those guys before. They have a pretty cool website, though.

Gagdad Bob said...

Greatest Power Pop group of all time. Like the Kinks, perennial underdogs who never got the attention they deserved. I know of no other group that combines the Beatles, Who, Beach Boys, Byrds and Small Faces so effectively, but there was simply no market for three-minute pop gems in the early 1970s. Their reunion album is quite good!

julie said...

I can hear why they'd remind someone of you :)

Gagdad Bob said...

This one sounds like some long lost Who single.

Gagdad Bob said...

What say you, Walt? I know you're out there. Can't you imagine Daltry singing that one?

John Lien said...

Funny, they don't look Whoish.

julie said...


A Spaceballs reference? Awesome.

walt said...

Heh, not what I am usually listening to @ 5 AM, but yeah, Daltry would be at home in that one.

Speaking of who(m), he now has his own band and is touring-about, performing Tommy.

John Lien said...

@julie. Actually, Yellow Submarine. That movie terrified 8 year old me when I saw it in the theater.

Gagdad Bob said...

More retro-rock, this from Big Sandy & the Fly Rite Boys. Proof positive that Elvis didn't have to suck just because he became fat.

Gagdad Bob said...

Here's some neo-retro Power Pop by the Dukes of the Stratosphere, a legendary band that never actually existed but was formed later by XTC.

Gagdad Bob said...

Sounds inspired by the Hollies.

Gagdad Bob said...

One of the best slabs of second-generation Power Pop, which was a retro movement about a retro movement.

julie said...

@ John - D'oh! I never saw the movie, or I would have known that; Spaceballs was likely referencing the same thing.

julie said...

Re. Big Sandy and hilariously bad 80s movies, that one reminds me of Val Kilmer's version of "Tutti Frutti" from Top Secret. Though obviously, Big Sandy did it a lot better.

julie said...

Thanks for the rest of those, Bob - I really like the Dukes of the Stratosphere link. Very cool.

John Lien said...

@julie. Yeah, I think that phrase is out there for the taking.

ge said...

some peaceful lute musick for William & his cat

Gagdad Bob said...


Interestingly, the next section of the Schonborn book deals with your question re the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in a rabbinical way, but then goes beyond what was considered acceptable. He cites Neusner, who wrote what is supposed to be a good book called A Rabbi Talks with Jesus:

"Yes, I would have been astonished. Here is a Torah-teacher who says in his own name what the Torah says in God's name. It is one thing to say on one's own how a basic teaching of the Torah shapes the everyday.... It is quite another to say that the Torah says one thing, 'but I say...' then to announce in one's own name what God set forth at Sinai.... I am troubled not so much by the message, though I might take exception to this or that, as I am by the messenger."

Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

Thanks for your response. That's quite interesting. When I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see nothing in the text itself that any observant jewish preacher would have trouble expounding to an observant jewish audience - and of course those are the conditions when it was delivered. Neusner's comment is interesting and will prompt me to re-read the Sermon.

What I'm thinking is, if you look at the two primary "directives" which Jesus gave to people, as recorded in the Gospels, they are (1) to love God, and (2) to love your neighbor. Of course, these are straightforward quotes or paraphrases from the Jewish Scripture and would have been familiar to those who received the teaching. What might have been novel, if anything, was the emphasis on these two Mitzvos (commandments) above all others -- but even that is not necessarily a drastic innovation, since we know that the sage Hillel similarly epitomized the Torah to an inquiring student.

What I do not find in the Sermon on the Mount is any suggestion of the Trinitarian Godhead, as expounded in the successive Councils, or an explicit claim to being either God or the Son of God.

Neusner's point, though, does make me wonder if that claim is not being made implicitly, and I will have to go back and consider it.

I might even read Schonborn!


Rick said...

"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."

Doesn't Jesus agree with your Jewish relative when He says,
"Why do you say I am good? There is only one good."

Or as St. Bill of the Murray once said,
"I said I was of God. Not the God.