The Ascension and Pentecost

Introduction: The Ascension and Pentecost

The Spring, 2011 issue of Communio continues our series on the mysteries of the life of Jesus with a reflection on the Ascension and Pentecost. The mystery of Christ’s Ascension signifies the definitive entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by the open heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand (cf. Acts 1:8–11; 2:33; 7:56). In John’s gospel, the Risen Christ says, “do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus’ return to the Father in the Ascension together with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit establish an enduring bond between all of the mysteries of Jesus’ earthly existence and the life of the Church. In this issue the editors of Communio also are pleased to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the birth of Maurice Blondel (1861–1949), the philosopher from Aix whose courageous life and writings sparked a renewal of Catholic philosophy and helped Catholic theology return to a more authentic tradition.

José Granados, in “The First Fruits of the Flesh and the First Fruits of the Spirit: The Mystery of the Ascension,” reflects on the relationship between the Resurrection and the Ascension in light of the meaning of time. Granados shows how the Ascension safeguards the link between the earthly life of Jesus and the time of the Church. “With the Ascension, something new follows the events of Easter: the glorified flesh of Jesus associates the body of the Church to himself, and, through this body, the entire cosmos. . . . If in his Incarnation Jesus binds the origin of history to his own origin in the Father, now he unites his definitive return to the Father with history’s movement toward God.”

Jean-Pierre Batut, in “Learning to Live the Theological Virtues in Christ’s Passion, Ascension, and Pentecost,” reflects on the meaning of Ascension and Pentecost for our configuration to Christ in faith, hope, and love. Batut suggests that the liturgical feasts of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost trace out an itinerary that leads the Christian from faith to hope and from hope to love, allowing for an interiorization and assimilation to God in the descending mode of filial adoption.

David L. Schindler, in “The Given as Gift: Creation and Disciplinary Abstraction in Science,” offers an extended argument regarding the nature of abstraction and the legitimate autonomy of the sciences. Challenging the widespread assumption that scientific abstractions or distinctions are metaphysically neutral, Schindler shows how “[t]he God-world distinction as disclosed in the act of creation shapes the primitive nature of all distinctions, and hence all abstractions, in the cosmos. Indeed, every distinction and abstraction implies a sense of the God-world relation.”

William L. Portier, in “Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology and the Triumph of Maurice Blondel,” situates Blondel’s thought in the context of key debates and developments within twentieth-century Catholic theology from the modernist crisis through John Paul II’s Fides et ratio. Chiefly through the writings of Henri de Lubac, Blondel’s thought exercised a subterranean influence on Catholic thought. In the words of de Lubac, Blondel’s thought was “the main impulse” for Latin theology’s “return to a more authentic tradition.”

According to Pope John Paul II, “at the root of Maurice Blondel’s philosophy, there is a sharp perception of the drama of the separation between faith and reason and the intrepid will to overcome this separation as contrary to the nature of things. The philosopher of Aix is thus an eminent representative of Christian philosophy.” [1] Oliva Blanchette, in “Why We Need Maurice Blondel,” presents Blondel’s enduring contribution to the Christian philosophy debate. Blanchette shows how Blondel “was a Catholic who needed philosophy, and a philosopher who needed Catholicism as a supernatural religion beyond the power of reason to investigate. He saw that it was necessary in philosophy to raise the question of a supernatural religion, even if it cannot be answered within the scope of philosophy or of reason alone.”

The issue continues with the publication, for the first time in English, of the introduction, “On the Need for a Philosophy of the Christian Spirit,” to Maurice Blondel’s important essay, The Philosophical Exigencies of Christian Religion. According to Blondel, “the proper and truly unique mark of Christianity is the coincidence of historical reality and of dogmatic truth.” Blondel contrasts the authentic Christian spirit with pragmatism: “William James cites as a dogma quite lacking in any philosophical interest, and hence absolutely indifferent in his view, the Trinity or again the Resurrection. But what a profound illusion that is! Through a really penetrating analysis of thought in ourselves and of the life of our spirit, we are led to discover that the very mystery of our intelligence has its origin in this supreme mystery of unity in Trinity, and that the history of the world, from the fiat lux all the way to the consummation of the heavenly City, is set in motion, is oriented by what Christian theology and philosophy have said of the creative design: omnia intendunt assimilari Deo. To bring all that out radically is therefore to tie nature and man back to their roots and to make them bear their true fruit, which is final union with God.”

The issue concludes with a letter from John Paul II commemorating the centenary of the publication of Maurice Blondel’s seminal book L’Action. According to John Paul II, “Blondel’s originality lies in the fact that he understands human action in all its dimensions, individual, social, moral, and religious, and that he shows us how these different aspects are intimately interconnected. It follows that, in acting, every human being unveils the powers of his being and of his interior life as a profound bond with his Creator.” Reflecting on the drama of human action, Blondel was able to rediscover the “marvelous harmony between nature and grace, between reason and faith.”                              □