Trying to Say God: An Address to the Artists

Trying to Say God: An Address to the Artists June 23, 2017

 

Bishop Daniel Flores
Bishop Daniel Flores

The following was delivered as a plenary address by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, at the inaugural TRYING TO SAY GOD conference at the University of Notre Dame, 22 June, 2017.  

  1. THE POVERTY OF THE WORD

The WORD is our most constant and mysterious companion. In some way we come together during these days to celebrate the poverty of the WORD. And this in two principle senses. We rejoice in the poverty assumed by the WORD when he took flesh, and secondly we celebrate that poverty that shows itself both in what we can say and in what we cannot say of Him. For in “trying to say God” we encounter all of these poverties, and more. By his poverty we are made rich.[i]

The whole Christian life is a participation in the expressiveness of the WORD. That the Church by grace both engenders and needs artisans of words, painters, sculptors, musicians, and other sub-creators is akin to an evident truth that flows from revelation. Popes and bishops have written about it, and history testifies to it. I am not interested in mounting an effort to re-present in narrative fashion what the tradition has said before me. I wish to speak as a pastor who who writes a bit, but reads more. And as a preacher who is often surprised after a homily that I said something I had never thought before.

In a certain way this or any discourse is an unveiling of the particular poverty of the speaker. I can only speak out of an impoverished particularity; this is not false humility, it is the metaphysical condition that we all share. We are embodied and therefore historical creatures. Each of us would describe our particularity differently. Mine begins with the fact that I spoke Spanish at my Grandmother’s knee, and spoke English to the television set. Then I went to school. The rest of the story is of occasional relevance and reflected in the footnotes. Paradoxically, I do not think many of us would trade our particular poverty for anything in the world; it is the indescribable richness through which the life of the WORD comes to us and in some way gets translated through us.

I do not doubt that a Catholic writer writes from poverty, in a labor that in the end is a response of love to the WORD who in his poverty has loved us. Exploring this conviction animates what I want to say today. In some way I wish to encourage you by depicting something of the mystery that envelops you as you write. And even if my words fall far short of their aim, there is, I hope, grace in leaving to silence what I cannot say.[ii]

So, let us consider for a moment the root and promise of our poverty. Javier Sicilia, the Mexican poet/novelist/human rights activist describes this mystery of the poverty of the WORD made flesh in a novel he wrote a few years ago entitled La Confesión. Early in the novel a fairly impractical, not to say useless, priest is having an interview with his fairly powerful Cardinal Archbishop. No one reading in Mexico would doubt the realism of the dialogue between authority and poverty in the Church. Javier Sicilia’s vision of the poverty of Christ pulses through the novel and is here encapsulated in this fragment. It picks up with the priest speaking quietly while the Cardinal sips a tequila. My English translation cannot do justice to the beauty of this passage.

Do you know what amazes me about the Incarnation? I continued, that it is altogether contrary to the modern world: the presence of the infinite in the limits of the flesh, and the fight, the fight with no quarter, against the temptations of the devil’s excesses. You do not know how much I have meditated on the temptations in the desert. “Take up the power”, the devil told him; that power that gives the illusion of being able to disrupt and dominate everything. But he maintained himself in the limits of his own flesh, in his own poverty, in his own death, so poor, so miserable, so hard. Our age, nevertheless, showing a face of enormous kindness, has succumbed to those temptations. “They will be like gods, they will change the stones into bread, and they will dominate the world”… to such an age we have handed over the Christ, and we do not even realize it.[iii]

Limitation is the world’s word for poverty. Perhaps we are quietly ashamed of our poverty, and so try to hide it. The world we live in strives to overcome our limitations, our poverty. Showing a face of enormous kindness we want to free ourselves and others from this poverty. In the midst of this comes the WORD enfleshed who seems to say to us that limitation is not the enemy.   Now that is a jarring word, disconcerting and hardly tolerable to the logic of pervasive human wants. Perhaps today faith in the Christ finds its greatest obstacle in the unthinkable thought that God would renounce the power and accept to maintain himself in the limits of his own flesh, in his own poverty, in his own death, so poor, so miserable, so hard.

Much later in the novel, our fairly useless priest is visiting with an elderly religious sister with whom he shares an abiding friendship and hears her utter the following:

If misery exists, Father, and the statistics do not lie, it is because the dream of the rich has contaminated the dreams of the poor. At the bottom of things, poverty no longer exists, dear Father. The only thing that exists is wealth and misery, … Do you know why? I know well that you know … Because they have been made to believe that their poverty is a shameful disease, a wound unworthy of the world. Never before has humanity, and here, excuse me, Father, I also included our Holy Mother Church, spit so much on the face of Christ, as if his poverty were a filth, that unclean filth that they hung from the cross and which we, as did his detractors, make fun of.[iv]

First I want to acknowledge the simple beauty of Sicilia’s use of language. Having said that, I would like to look at this from a couple of different angles. First, at its most obvious sense, Sicilia locates the denigration of the poor, and thus the denigration of the Christ, in the contaminating influence of the dream of the rich, which is in principle a kind of limitless possibility of possession, consumption and the overcoming of human limitation.

Laudato Sí makes the audacious, almost apocalyptic claim that we are witnessing the normalization of the notion that goodness and beauty are synonymous with utility. It’s an old human threat, but technical prowess and economic power make the grasping manipulation of ourselves, our neighbor and our surroundings monstrously achievable. The voracious advance of “this age of usage” makes human ecology increasingly hostile to humanity itself. The first sign of this hostility is the manipulation of the poor, who on Sicilia’s telling, are being made to feel shame while being sold a bill of goods. The second sign is the devastation of the natural ecology. We are deeply down this road. This limitless commodification of reality for purposes of provoking limitless consumptive desire makes dystopian fiction less and less a futuristic genre.

It appears we live in a time when words, like the human body itself, are displayed for the sole purpose of provoking consumptive desire. This aggressiveness holds powerful sway, and suggests that our cultural moment despairs that words, bodiliness, and the whole of material creation, in the end, matter much. We press into heartless service what we little value.

This state of affairs profoundly affects the life of a worker of words.

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Catholics who use words with creatively significant intentions seek to give expression to human life’s intelligible speaking, doing so in the abbreviated form of a story, a poem, a novel. The Fathers of the Church delighted in preaching the Incarnate WORD as both the bearer and the embodiment of all that the Father has to say to us. They spoke of him as the VERBUM breviatum.[vi] The many words of the earlier covenants are more briefly assumed into the New; the Lord’s parables capture in the fragment the whole of the Gospel; the Lord’s Prayer conveys in just a few words the whole mystery of prayer. And finally, the person of Christ Himself, displayed in the act of giving Himself to the Father for our sakes, both shows and enacts what all his words to us intended to express. And so it is that the progressively abbreviated expression intensifies the visibility of the WORD. Is this not the promise contained in the poor human limit assumed by the WORD? Our embrace, then, of the WORD in his human particularity surely commits us to follow Him into the mystery of the limitation that signifies most intensely.

  1. THE PROVOCATIONS OF THE WORD

Question 46, article 3 of the Tertia Pars: Thomas asks in what sense the Cross was necessary for our salvation. Such a beautiful few lines. Such a simple formulation, a fragment that in some way contains the whole.[vii]

In the first place, man knows thereby how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation; hence the Apostle says in Romans 5:8: God commends His charity towards us; for when as yet we were sinners . . . Christ died for us [viii]

Certainly the whole of the Summa is contained in these few lines, but that is far less important than the fact that the whole of the salvific drama is here simply expressed. God the Father shows himself in the act of manifesting the Crucified Son, and by the Spirit we both see and are made participating agents in the love there displayed. Here, Thomas expresses the VERBUM abreviatum of the New Testament revelation. Put another way he shows us in worded dramatic form the Trinitarian icon of the West; think of Masaccio’s three dimensional image of the Trinity painted in two dimensions. I think we must look at it together, not because we necessarily want to make it the subject of our next essay, poem or novel, but because how we see and respond to this dramatic display will profoundly affect how we write our next essay, poem or novel.

This iconic description is in fact the culmination of a contemplative biblicist’s perception of the dynamic of revelation. The drama of the Trinitarian icon in the form of the Crucified is thoroughly divine and uncompromisingly human. It pivots around three moments: the appearing, the provocative insight, and the response. In some sense the drama is in the perception, and in the interpretation of the provocative appearing. Yet the greater dramatic weight is in the character, quality and direction of the human response to this divine provocation.

Thomas alludes to the intrusive appearing of Christ in the citation of Romans 5: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We were quite unprepared for this appearing. His arriving was not the descent of an invited guest, nor was he made all that welcome when at last he came. The time, place and manner of WORD’s manifestation was entirely hidden in the wise counsel of the Living God.

Thomas’ invocation of St Paul’s text serves to give authoritative characterization of the intrusion’s motive from God’s point of view. God appears as one commending, that is to say manifesting persuasively, his love for us. This is the divine eros, a dramatic move to show himself as he is, which is equivalent to showing himself in the act of love. The human drama, which is also a kind of eros, is entwined in the divine display and is simply captured by Thomas in the verbs he uses: cognoscit, provocatur and ad diligendum. We are intended to know something, to be provoked to something, and to respond in some way.

This provocative appearing is directed to our desire; it aims radically to divert our attention (which is always derivative of desire) away from what is normative for us to something new, something not derivative from our lived experience in the world. Jean-Luc Marion presses into service the word “anamorphosis” to describe this phenomenon.[ix] This involves a jarring shift of perspective by which one sees, or at least glimpses, as God sees. Conversion precisely entails this radical re-visioning.

In keeping with plain Catholic doctrine this revising shift can only happen through the prior attractive grace present in the appearing itself: Ista attractio, ipsa est revelatio, as Saint Augustine says: This attraction is itself the revelation. Thus, divine love is both the revelation and embodies its own attractive force. It makes possible our free movement toward it and in it: Seduxisti me Domine, et seductus sum.[x]

The parables of the Kingdom can help us get a sense of the ista attractio. In the parables, the attractive character of the Kingdom is in the very proposing of a viewpoint other than our own. Often the arousal of desire for the Kingdom involves dramatic depiction of a viewpoint that sees what is missing. Thus the prodigal son saw something made present to his mind, and it told him what he was lacking, and this stirred him to return home. The widow saw what she no longer had, a silver coin, and it stirred her to search. The experience of what attracts to God can look quite bizarre to the casual observer. The clever steward who seems to scandalize the reader who only looks for moral lessons in the parables, knows his future hangs in the balance now that his master has decided to dismiss him. So he makes friends with the poor by, illegally perhaps, reducing their debts. The parable offends someone who expects the Lord only to show us ethics. It makes sense to one who perceives that his interest is in provoking us to see that the Kingdom involves an urgent desire to avoid disaster, and friendship with the poor is the surest way to proceed.

As readers I do not doubt that we have all had the experience of being attracted and moved to a perspectival shift of some kind. It seems to me most great literature aims to affect our seeing. I have on occasion been resistant to a book because the perspectival revision proposed struck me as too aggressive or in some way persuasive in a direction I did not want to pursue. Let me just say Interview with a Vampire was too successful in depicting the evil of draining someone’s life away as attractive. I never finished the book. Conversely, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files fascinate me. I enjoy them, and though I am quite sure there is a perspectival shift being proposed, I have not sensed this to be problematic; quite the contrary.

My point, though, is that as readers we make decisions all the time about what authors are trying to show us, and how far we are willing to let them show it. This experience is analogous to the work of grace implied by the Trinitarian icon in its attractive phase. Either consciously or not, our writing will share in this analogous relation. And in principle our writing can be aligned in diverse ways with the icon’s attractive intent, even as the parables were.

Now then, faith’s character as an apprehended intuition, a gratuitously offered and accepted provocation to God’s point of view, forms the basis for the regenerative work of grace. By it we are made capable of responding. We rise, as it were, to the level of actual participation in the love revealed in the iconic drama.

It should be noted that this is exactly the point at which Catholic anthropology holds as paramount what later Reformation theologies will relegate to lesser importance. The response of love to the love offered is the salvific moment. Thus, Thomas says of the move to love God in return: herein lies the perfection of human salvation For Thomas, stopping at the moment of insight into the meaning of the icon, equivalent to the act of faith, is a tragic failure. The insight of faith is stunted in its teleology if it does not trigger within us the infusion of charity that loves God in return. This responsiveness is directed to the poor Christ and by immediate extension to the neighbor. Lord, when did we feed you when you were hungry; when did we clothe you when you were naked?[xi] This entire movement constitutes active, willed participation in God’s own love.

One of the remarkable aspects of Thomas’ account is how completely the divine / human drama is enveloped in charity. It is love which motivates the divine appearing; it is this love appearing which itself attracts us willingly into the altering of our gaze. And it is love generated by the grace of faith and given in response to God that perfects the salvific action. For Thomas, the intellect may be the highest human faculty, but salvation is in the will inasmuch as charity is the love we gracefully / humanly return.

To insist on the primacy of charity in the Christian life is to open up the enormous dramatic consequences of human agency which in its most pristine description is responsiveness to the gift of love. The response to the divine provocation can be immensely varied; to name a few, it can be sudden, subtle, lethargic or thwarted.[xii] The parable of the sower is not unrelated to this aspect of a Catholic dramatic vision. Here it would be appropriate to say the word “hope”. Because of the obstacles human persons can encounter within this dramatic vista, hope emerges as the divinely sustained medium of life. The lethargic and the thwarted response need not remain so.

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Since the Incarnation something extraordinary has been unleashed upon the world: It is the irruption of grace in flesh. The visibility of the divine is a manifestation of the divine love, a God-desire to be seen as love in the midst of his creation. His appearing affects every aspect of human agency: the senses, the passions, the appetites, the intellect and the will. Human creativity cannot but be affected by being pulled into the divine expressive love. A Catholic writer contemplates this mystery and wonders how to extend the reach of its visibility..

I think of Bernanos’ book The Imposter. In it he carefully lays out the human contingencies that lead to the second volume, Joy. The drama of the appearing of grace and the drama of refusal emerge throughout these works in expressive elegance. At the end of the second book, we see the Imposter Cénabre struggling up a flight of stairs, and finally admitting that he must do what he alone cannot do, he says to the distraught cook: Will you kindly give me your hand,… I fear I cannot take a single step unassisted. And then the viewpoint shifts to the poor woman, chosen here to witness what his exhausted, surrendering flesh can only intimate:

She felt her arm seized with convulsive force. At once he began climbing the stairs, slowly, heavily, as though he were pushing a tremendous weight with his forehead. And when, after the door had been opened, the light struck his face, frozen in an anguish that was more than human, the poor woman, in spite of her terror, could not suppress a cry of pity.[xiii]

In my limited reading, this is one of the most expressive scenes in modern literature. Bernanos, whom I cite here in exemplary fashion, is surely among the great crafters of the story. He is a challenge for us, as are many Catholic authors of the last century. His work resonates beyond his time and place. Yet, it is not possible now for us to write as he did. This should not surprise us. After all, St Ignatius did what St Francis and St Dominic did without actually doing what they did. Bernanos wrote from the particular poverty of his moment, and from a contemplative stance before the poor Christ’s provocative appearing. To write as a Catholic is most properly to do just that. Our response will be different though, because, though the poor Christ is the same, our poverty before him now is different.

 

  • THE WORD AT THE EDGE

The jarring perspectival shift contained in the act of faith and responded to in charity in some way transposes the believer and turns the disguised divine appearing into the discernible and pervasive presence. We speak and write in the grace of this perspective. Herein lies the non-believers great frustration with us. To the tepid believer or to the non-believer, the tradition of literature forged within the Catholic anamorphosis is one of many strands within the larger historical categorization of artistic traditions and literary history. This tradition may or may not appear remarkable within this historicization. In fact contemporary literary criticism seems to have a vested interest in noting how it is quite unremarkable within the historical trajectory.

For many literary critics, a literature nourished by a dogmatic religious faith is but a phase that is bound to be superseded by our current happy progression into intellectually uncommitted status. This amorphous critical perspective, which is anything but happy, is actually a mix of hostile aversions to any claims about meaning in the world. Yet there is another way to read the history of literature. If the incarnation of the WORD is the intense-most signification of the love unseen behind all that is, then the rejection of this sign was bound to wind itself historically toward the current cultural fear that behind all that is, there is nothing at all. To say it this way puts in high relief where our current contentious edge lies.

Deconstruction is an apophaticism that cannot conceive of the WORD beyond human wordiness. As a philosophical, literary and cultural phenomenon it is a movement that sees meaning as a pure construction of the aggressive mind; meaning, thus, is something like a human institution. And like institutions, words must be shown for what they are when deconstructed: at root, for the deconstructionist culture, universal claims of meaning are idolatry, an aggressive kingdom that keeps its subjects within a controlled dominion. In that sense meaning is an extension of the human power-play. The Game of Thrones, whether conceived so or not, is a parable of deconstruction. This distrust of meaning is extended to the Church in a particularly intense way because she is perceived as the paramount institution that proposes meaning.[xiv]

Being an institution that is inherently protective of the claims of signification is not the real problem, though. The problem for us is construing the institution and the meanings without relation to their their original source and final end. The various versions of deconstruction admit of no such original source that lies behind and above both meanings and institutions, which is why their fruit is bleakness. We, in fact, do admit of this source, which is why the fruit of our labor should be hope.

For the Catholic the idolatry of worded meaning is a temptation, as is the rendering of Church in her temporal form as an absolute. In the case of the Church, her form derives from the Kingdom of the crucified and risen Christ, just as in apophaticism, meaning is derivative and relative to the WORD beyond human speaking. Temporal meanings and ecclesial forms are necessary for us as vehicles toward what they both sacramentally signify. Words and the Church house us in a forward moving fashion. Their form will give way when they have served their poor yet noble purpose.

Thomas says somewhere in De Veritate:

Whatever our understanding conceives of God falls short of his representation; and thus what he is always remains hidden from us; and this is the highest knowledge of him which we can have in this life, that we know God to be above all that which we think of him.[xv]

Dante says what Thomas says about unsayability when he invents the verb “trasumanar” in order to say that to pass beyond the human cannot be signified through words.[xvi] Dante never tires of squeezing out of the language the outlines of a description molded to tell us what he cannot say, cannot remember, cannot describe.[xvii] Dante’s glorious failure in describing the Heavenly City, the Church in her transfigured form, should hold a privileged place in our literary and theological memory.[xviii]

If Dante breathed the air of the theological tradition that kept guard over the unsayability of the Godhead, it is because the Tradition held fast to something present in the Lord’s own announcement of the Kingdom. There is a kind of transgression, and indeed a kind of deconstruction that is built into the Gospel announcement itself. Every positive description of the Kingdom is at the same time a negation of what the figure of the world proposes as normative.

The Kingdom is not like the Rich Man’s table; it is like Lazarus’ vindication. The Kingdom is not about cultivating relations with people who can profit you, it’s about being good to people who cannot pay you back. The Kingdom is not like simply fulfilling the Law; it is like selling all you have and giving to the poor. The Kingdom is not like Pilate’s judgment seat; it is like Christ judged and giving taciturn witness to the truth. The transgressive character of the Lord’s announcement bears the marks of the WORD’s scourging of the form of the world as we know it. The face of that WORD appeared more clear to us when, in love, it was he who took the scourging.

In this sense, the perspectival shift to God’s point of view deconstructs any absolute claims in the world. The only absolute left is the forward moving imprint of divine love on the form of creation. It is the resurrection of the Christ tending us toward the Apocalypse. Both the Church and our words are at the service of this tending toward the wedding feast of the lamb. Thus, in Christianity, deconstruction is a radical purification that relativizes in order to save. If there is demolition, it is for the sake of uncovering the ground of love.[xix]

It may be that the believer’s paradox of not being able to say God is met on the other side by the unbeliever’s paradox of not being able not to say God. I mean that the impulse toward signification is a drive in us more powerful than even the sexual drive. To be a true deconstructionist tending towards nihilism you have to constantly remind yourself that what you naturally seek, a meaning in things, is illusory. For a true nihilist to derive joy from something as simple as the sweep of words that lead us to see the eagles as they come for Frodo and Sam , Here at the end of all things, is akin to an act of infidelity to his professed first love. But such a one will repent of having been moved by the sense of the scene, lest others accuse him of having said God.[xx]

But most people are not true nihilists, they are rather agnostics about the possibility of anything more than merely useful, and thus passing signification. And this practical agnosticism is born of having been schooled in a culture of distrust. In such a culture meaning is utilitarian and fleeting, and why it comes and why it leaves is lost to darkness. Our witness involves a befriending of the dark, not by taming it, but by listening to and speaking the WORD as he names himself from there.

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A Catholic writer lives and works at this edge of meaning, between light and the dark, and our witness emerges from that place. God is beyond our saying, but not beyond saying himself into us.[xxi] This is the source of our hope. With John of the Cross we intuit the difficulty and promise of hearing the Word in the dark: sin otra luz y guía / sino la que en el corazón ardía.

En la noche dichosa,

en secreto, que nadie me veía,

ni yo miraba cosa, sin otra luz y guía

sino la que en el corazón ardía.[xxii]

And with Hopkins we intuit both the difficulty and the promise inherent in speaking the WORD-Love. But we must in the end try to speak it: Caritas Christi urget nos.[xxiii] Not as the world warily and wearily speaks it, but as the WORD irrupting in flesh spoke and speaks it. Behold, the master of the tides,.. the Ground of being and granite of it, the past all / Grasp God who has shown a mercy that outstrides. With the poets we must make the arduous journey and respond to Our passion-plungèd giant risen, / The Christ of the Father compassionate.

I admire thee, master of the tides,

Of the Yore-flood, of the year’s fall;

The recurb and the recovery of the gulf’s sides,

The girth of it and the wharf of it and the wall;

Staunching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind;

Ground of being, and granite of it: past all

Grasp God, throned behind

Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;

 

With a mercy that outrides

The all of water, an ark

For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides

Lower than death and the dark;

A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,

The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost mark

Our passion-plungèd giant risen,

The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.[xxiv]

 

Thank you for your kind attention,

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Listen to the audio version of Bishop Flores’s talk via our Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/user-286542346/bishop-daniel-flores-trying-to-say-god?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=twitter

[i] 2 Cor 8,9.

[ii] Javier Sicilia: La confesión: El diario de Esteban Martorus (Debolsillo, 2016, electronic format): pos. 704: Tal vez los lenguajes sean en realidad una cuerda de silencios cuyos nudos son las palabras. Para nosotros, los cristianos, el Verbo es el silencio coeterno que un día, por el silencio atento de María, se articuló en Jesús de Nazareth y nos echó a andar. El silencio permite que la palabra de otro se haga Él en nosotros.

[iii] Javier Sicilia, La confesión, pos. 176: Sabe qué me maravilla de la encarnación? —continué—, que es todo lo contrario del mundo moderno: la presencia del infinito en los límites de la carne, y la lucha, la lucha sin cuartel, contra las tentaciones de las desmesuras del diablo. No sabe cuánto he meditado en las tentaciones del desierto. ”‘ Asume el poder’, le decía el diablo; ese poder que da la ilusión de trastocar y dominar todo. Pero él se mantuvo en los límites de su propia carne, en su propia pobreza, en su propia muerte, tan pobre, tan miserable, tan dura. Nuestra época, sin embargo, bajo el rostro de una enorme bondad, ha sucumbido a esas tentaciones. ‘Serán como dioses, cambiarán las piedras en panes, dominarán el mundo’… A ella le hemos entregado a Cristo y no nos damos cuenta.

[iv] Javier Sicilia, La confesión, pos. 1669: Si la miseria existe y las estadísticas no mienten es porque el sueño de los ricos ha contaminado los sueños de los pobres. En el fondo ya no existela pobreza, querido padre. Lo único que existe es la riqueza y la miseria,.. ¿Sabe por qué? Sé bien que lo sabe,… Porque se les ha hecho creer que su pobreza es una enfermedad vergonzosa, una llaga indigna del mundo. ”Nunca la humanidad, y aquí, discúlpeme, padre, incluyo también a nuestra Santa Madre, había escupido tanto sobre el rostro de Cristo, como si su pobreza se tratara de una porquería, de esa inmunda porquería que colgaron de la cruz y de la cual, como lo hicieron sus detractores, nos burlamos.

[v] Ratzinger, “La Belleza” in La Belleza, La Iglesia (Ediciones Encuentro, 2006, electronic format) pos. 93: Quien cree en Dios, en el Dios que se ha manifestado precisamente en los semblantes alterados de Cristo crucificado como amor «hasta el fin» (Jn 13,1), sabe que la belleza es verdad y que la verdad es belleza, pero en Cristo sufriente aprende también que la belleza de la verdad implica ofensa, dolor y, sí, también el oscuro misterio de la muerte, que sólo se puede encontrar en la aceptación del dolor, y no en su rechazo.

[vi] See St. Cyprian of Carthage, De Dominica Oratione, 28-30. A common and fruitful consideration in the Latin Middle Ages, drawing from Isaiah 10, 23 and Romans 9, 28.

[vii] Bruno Forte, The Portal of Beauty, Towards a Theology of Aesthetics, (Eerdmans, 2008, electronic format), Chapter Two: “The Word of Beauty, Thomas Aquinas”: The Whole has made its home in the fragment because the relationship of love which constitutes it as purest beginning of all that is has now offered itself in the flesh: beauty is the arche of the Three, revealed in its highest form at the hour of the abandonment of the Cross, where the suffering of the crucified God opens the way into the depths of divine communion.

[viii] Summa Theologiae, III, 46, 3, c.: Primo enim, per hoc homo cognoscit quantum Deus hominem diligat, et per hoc provocatur ad eum diligendum, in quo perfectio humanae salutis consistit. Unde apostolus dicit, Rom. V, commendat suam caritatem Deus in nobis, quoniam, cum inimici essemus, Christus pro nobis mortuus est.

[ix] Jean-Luc Marion Givenness and Revelation, translated by Stephen Lewis (Oxford University Press, 2016), p 64: In order to see the uncovered mystērion, it is thus necessary to pass from our spirit to the Spirit of God, so as to see it as God sees it. This is nothing less than an overturning of intentionality: taking the intentional gaze of God on God, instead of claiming to retain our intentionality in front of the intuition of the mystērion. I have identified elsewhere this overturning or transferal of intentionality as an anamorphosis.

[x] Jeremiah 20, 7.

[xi] See Mt 25. and Sunna Theologiae II-II, 27, 8, c., where St Thomas cites 1 Jn 4, 21, on this point: “this commandment we have from God, that he, who loveth God, love also his brother”.

[xii] Marion, Givenness, 48: Revelation consists only in the attraction by the Father toward the Son, in order to see the Father in him: “Ista revelatio, ipsa est attractio”. Whether this attraction is felt as gentle or violent changes nothing: revelation exerts these two effects, simply because it brings itself to bear. We believe in God when we will it, clearly; but we will it only when we love that which we desire;..

[xiii] Bernanos, Joy, (Pantheon Books, 1946): The final chapter. La Joie (Édition du groupe, Ebooks libres et gratuits) 1929 edition, p 236: -Ayez donc la bonté de me donner la main, dit Cénabre. Je crains de ne pouvoir faire un seul pas. / Elle se sentit saisir le bras avec une force convulsive. Aussi- tôt il se mit à monter à ses côtés, lentement, pesamment, comme s’il eût repoussé du front, à grand-peine, un poids im- mense. Et lorsque, la porte ouverte de nouveau, la lumière vint frapper ce visage pétrifié par une anxiété plus qu’humaine, si grande que fût la terreur de la pauvre fille, elle ne retint pas un cri de pitié.

[xiv] Pope Benedict, writing about 15 years before his election, identified with characteristic succinctness an important aspect of the current situation faced by the Church: For the great part of the people, the discontent with the Church has its origin in the fact that it is an institution like so many others, and as such, it limits my freedom. […] The anger against the Church or the disappointment that it provokes, have a specific character, because from her is expected, quietly, more than is expected from other mundane institutions. Ratzinger, “La Iglesia”: in La Belleza, La Iglesia (Ediciones Encuentro, 2006, electronic format) pos. 204: Para la mayor parte de la gente, el descontento frente a la Iglesia tiene su origen en que es una institución como tantas otras y que, como tal, limita mi libertad. […] La ira contra la Iglesia o la desilusión que provoca tienen un carácter específico, porque de ella se espera, calladamente, más de lo que se espera de otras instituciones mundanas.

[xv] De veritate 2, i, ad 9m: Quidquid intellectus noster de Deo concipit, est deficiens a repraesentatione eius; et ideo quid est ipsius Dei semper nobis occultum remanet; et haec est summa cognitio quam de ipso in statu viae habere possumus, ut cognoscamus Deum esse supra omne id quod cogitamus de eo.

[xvi] Paradiso I, 70-1: Trasumanar significar per verba / non si poría’ (‘ Transhumanizing cannot be signified in words’. See William Franke, Dante and the Sense of Trsnsgression,(Bloomsbury, 2013, electronic format), pg. 8.

[xvii] William Franke, Dante and the Sense of Transgression, (Bloomsbury, 2013, electronic format), pg. 52: It is through resolutely transgressing every order of presentation and representation that Dante finally delivers his divine vision. Most deeply understood, it is a non-vision –which, nevertheless, in its very forgetfulness casts a shadow of infinitely rich and nuanced images that are glimpsed in the act of disappearing.

[xviii] William Frankie, Dante, pg 84: Dante, too, develops a poetics of failure in order not so much to deliver his final vision as to describe the impediments to his doing so. Paradoxically, the tale of his failure becomes his success, and he too sojourns indefinitely among the dead in the poem which survives him.

[xix] As Thomas Pfau Minding the Modern, (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013) says of “modernity’s leading paradigm of knowledge”, almost in passing: “Plato (as indeed Coleridge himself) might have simply called it a philosophy that no longer offers a conceptual or imaginative space for love—which might itself be the most salient characteristic of philosophical modernity.”

[xx] JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Harper-Collins e-books), Bk 6, Ch 4, The Field of Cormallen: ‘I am glad that you are here with me,’ said Frodo. ‘Here at the end of all things, Sam.’ ‘Yes, I am with you, Master,’ said Sam, laying Frodo’s wounded hand gently to his breast. ‘And you’re with me. And the journey’s finished. But after coming all that way I don’t want to give up yet. It’s not like me, somehow, if you understand.’

[xxi] See Summa Theologiae, I, 43, 5, ad 2, where Thomas cites Augustine (De Trin. iv, 20): The Son is sent, whenever He is known and perceived by anyone. / […] Et ideo signanter dicit Augustinus quod filius mittitur, cum a quoquam cognoscitur atque percipitur. De Trinitate iv, 20 is cited frequently in I, 43.

[xxii] San Juan de la Cruz, Noche Oscura, v. 3: On the blessed night, / in secret, that nobody saw me, / nor did I anything see, / without any light and guide / except the one burning within me.

[xxiii] 2 Cor 5:14: The love of Christ compels us.

[xxiv] Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland, stanzas 32, 33. I am indebted to Ron Hanson for his novel Exiles (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) for a deeper, more humane, appreciation of Hopkins’ work.

 

 

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