Winter 2007. Fidelity
Table of Contents
The Winter, 2007 issue of Communio presents four articles on the theme of Fidelity. A common thread uniting these articles is the discernment that the contemporary crisis of fidelity can be traced ultimately to a forgetfulness of the meaning of the human being as constitutively related to God and others. As Robert Spaemann argues, “freedom for the human being is something that is essentially bound up with interpersonality. Our freedom is not as isolated individuals. . . . [W]e are free insofar as we continuously allow one another to be free.” At the summit of human freedom is the capacity to give oneself irrevocably to God or to another human being (in marriage) and to remain faithful to this gift. Human freedom and human fidelity are inscribed within and image God’s covenantal fidelity—“I will betroth you to me for ever. . . . I will betroth you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos 2:19-20).
In “Where Does Fidelity Dwell?” Hans Urs von Balthasar argues that experiences such as genuine love or the miraculous arrival of a child suggest that there is a reference to something “more” at the innermost center of the human being, yet the frailty of human nature leads to mistrust and infidelity. In order to establish fidelity on earth, God must reveal his eternal fidelity. In the person of Jesus Christ human fidelity and divine fidelity become strictly identical: “He is the absolute ‘yes’ of God to humanity and the absolute ‘yes’ of humanity to God.” In being forsaken by God, Jesus takes upon himself the consequences of our infidelity. “Because the Father in covenant fidelity gives us his Son ‘and with him all things’ (Rm 8:32), God’s essential fidelity, his ‘fidelity to himself,’ is only now revealed in its true depth: as a mystery of trinitarian love.”
“‘An animal that can promise and forgive’” records a conver sation between Robert Spaemann and Holger Zaborowski on the meaning of promising and forgiving. For Spaemann the capacity to give another person a claim on me, that is, the right to expect certain things of me regardless of how I may feel in the future, suggests that the person himself is already a promise: “this is the essence of the person: a person is the promise to keep promises.” In forgiving a broken promise, I permit the other to be a person again, to become once again a promise. “To be dependent on forgiveness—that is what is decisive. And in Christianity it is the alpha and omega. Forgiveness is at the very beginning. Much is forgiven because Jesus has loved much.”
In “Wendell Berry on Marriage: Marriage in the Membership,” written in honor of the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Wendell and Tanya Berry, Anne Husted Burleigh notes that throughout Berry’s writings “there is no such thing as a marriage that is solely private; it is always related to the community; it is always responsible to the community, just as the community is responsible to it.” “In the end, Wendell Berry’s works are hymns of fidelity, fidelity in marriage and in all other ways, fidelity that can only be the result of God’s faithfulness to us.”
Finally, in “The Heart and the Wall—Courtly Love and Christian Courtship,” Robert E. Rodes, Jr. seeks to retrieve the main elements of Courtly Love—the ennobling force of human love, the elevation of the beloved to a place of superiority above the lover, and the conception of love as ever increasing desire—and to claim for these elements “an accepted place in the Christian theology of courtship and marriage.” After tracing the portrayal of Courtly Love in literature from De Amore (c. 1190) and The Romance of the Rose (1230) to Pride and Prejudice (1813) and the film Top Hat (1935), Rodes addresses the classical objection that Courtly Love and marriage are incompatible. In response, Rodes suggests that “the difference between man and woman is metaphysical as well as physical,” and that “the love between them is creative as well as procreative.” Faithful love between man and woman is “a turning toward the metaphysically Other, a sign of the completion that awaits us when we see God.”
In “The Gift of Simplicity. Reflections on Obedience in the Work of Adrienne von Speyr,” Adrian J. Walker writes on Adrienne von Speyr’s rediscovery of the essential connection between obedience and the filial attitude of those who have received the power of being children of God. This connection is anchored in the eternal generation of the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose sheer “yes” to the Father reveals a “filial mode of being God [that] is so internal to the Father’s essence as self-gift . . . that the Son’s ‘yes’ is a co-cause of his own eternal generation.” For Adrienne, the fundamental posture of Christian obedience is the basic attitude of the Son, an attitude characterized by the simplicity of the One who does the Father’s will spontaneously, without complications, not because he is constrained to do it, but because he wants to, because he loves the Father.
In “The Reasonableness of an Event That Awakens Love,” Antonio López offers an account of the “eventfulness” of Christ who reveals in his body the logos of God’s triune love and the logos of creaturely being. As Maximus the Confessor teaches, “God [wished] to mingle, without change on his part, with human nature by true hypostatic union.” The entire cosmos was created with a view to participating in this union. “God creates man and being in his image by endowing being with the richness proper to divine love: gift of self. The contemplation of reality and the archetypal experience of love begin to teach man the truth of the whole revealed in the person of Christ: the relation of absolute love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.”
In “‘Face to Face’: The Difference Between Christian and Hindu Non-Dualism,” Stratford Caldecott reflects on the points of contact and the differences between Advaita Vedanta (a non-dualist interpretation of the Upanisads) and the Christian understanding of God as trinitarian love. “The Christian’s awareness of the world,” Caldecott suggests, “can be purified by contact with the Asian spirit that sees the fragility, delicacy, and relativity—the gratuitous ‘suchness’—of things. . . . On the other hand, this purification only intensifies the distinctively Christian experience of a world beginning to exist in Christ. . . . The world is dying and passing away, which proves its ‘insubstantiality.’ But in Christ the world is rising from death and ascending to the Father.”
In “Blindness and Forgetting: The Prophet-Reformer in Yves Congar’s Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Église,” Joseph G. Mueller seeks to develop and modify Congar’s argument on the role of “prophet-reformers” in relation to authentic reform. Mueller argues that the logic of Congar’s account of Church reform leads to the conclusion that prophet-reformers will always be characterized by “a certain blindness and forgetting.” True reform, then, calls for the spiritual attitudes of “dependence on God’s mercy and providence, docility to the divine will, the abnegation to accept humbling correction from the wider Church.”
Notes and Comments closes the present issue with a reflection on the “Baptismal and Ordained Priesthood in the Sacrifice of the Mass,” by John H. Wright. Father Wright was one of the original board members of the North American Communio, and he is currently living in the Jesuit community at Gonzaga University, where he is in retirement. We are very happy to publish this text in honor of Fr. Wright’s many contributions to Communio and to the Catholic theological community. In the sacrifice of the Mass, he observes, “we participate in Christ’s self-giving sacrifice and love, he knows and makes his own our acts of worship of God.” The ordained priest makes “Christ’s enduring sacrifice present here and now, so that all the baptized faithful present, including the ordained priest himself, can exercise the participation in Christ’s priesthood given to them in baptism.”
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