Mediated immediacy

Mediation does not stand in opposition to immediacy, argues Jean-Luc Marion in an essay on Pseudo-Dionysius. Rather, in the mode of gift, “mediation neither troubles nor retards immediacy but rather completes it” and indeed ” only mediation produces immediacy” ( The Idol and Distance: Five Studies (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) , 169-70 ).

The key to understanding this is to fit together Dionysian themes: hierarchy and gift, both understood Christologically. A gift is properly received, Marion argues, only if it is recognized for the gift that it is and reproduced in a further gift. To grasp a gift is to turn it from a gift to something else. “Receiving and giving are therefore achieved in the same act” (166).

In Dionysius’s system, gifts flow from God down the hierarchy of being, each gift received in its re-play, its re-performance as gift. There may be limits in the transmission, but these are the result of sin, from the inability of recipients to receive/give without envy (167).

Marion notes (following Dionysius) that the word for this transmission – traditio , handing over – is used in the New Testament both for the handing over of a heritage (the heritage of revelation) and the betrayal and handing-over of Jesus: “The truth of the tradition culminates in the act where the Christ delivers himself to men, in order there to deliver the mystery hidden from all eternity” (168). From this, Marion draws a more general conclusion about the transmission of gifts: “A gift is not repeated, nor is it received as a gift unless the recipient donor becomes integrally and in person – hypostatically – a gift” (168). Christ reveals the secret of all transmission, all giving.

On this model, the gift transmitted, the tradition “conjoins two apparently contradictory characteristics: first, the perfect transivity of the gift that, through redundancy, passes without loss, safe and unchanged, from one term to the other; next, the ballast of a body tat receives the gift only in delivering itself totally, in order . . . to interpret it all the more scrupulously insofar as it totally ‘gives itself therein.’” Here we have the combination we’re looking for: Immediacy (the transivity of the gift) and mediation (the body that delivers itself). The mediating body of Jesus is the very gift it mediates.

Skim off a layer of Dionysian neo-Platonism, and we have here with in “mediated immediacy” the prolegomena to any future sacramental theology.

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