Introduction: Poverty and Kenosis
The Fall 2015 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Poverty and Kenosis.” In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich” (8:9). This is what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls “the improbable miracle of poverty”: that Christ’s kenotic self-emptying, his obedience to the Father in becoming man and suffering death on the Cross, leads to man’s becoming wealthier than he could ever imagine through participation in the inner life of God. The following articles explore what Christ’s kenotic act reveals about poverty in its spiritual and material dimensions, and its part in the relationship between God and man.
In Jean-Pierre Batut’s “The Kenotic Decision of the Son and the Filial Obedience of the Christian,” we see that the poverty assumed by Jesus Christ is not a simple passivity, but rather an expression of the highest actuality as well. “The dei (“must”) of the Paschal Mystery has nothing to do with an inevitable tragedy, but with a free decision.” Christ offers himself entirely in this act of decision, an act that includes his Body, the Church. In so doing, writes Batut, Christ allows every believer to take part in this great act of kenosis, because “an analogous decision is required of the disciple.”
In “The Precarity of Love: Dorothy Day on Poverty,” Larry Chapp opens up another dimension of our theme by meditating on some passages from the writings of Dorothy Day, whose life was dedicated to the poor and understanding poverty. For Day, poverty indicates our willing surrender to our Creator, and its soul is “precarity, [which] signifies an attitude of inward trust in God.”
Antonio López’s “Vides Trinitatem Si Caritatem Vides: Persons in Communion” examines the seeming poverty of man’s desire for others in community and shows it is precisely here that God not only meets man, but also gratuitously fulfills this desire. We see evidence of man’s search for communion in both the Greeks and in Israel, but it is in only Christ’s revelation of the triune God that this need is finally met. This revelation allows us to see that because God is three persons, he “is an eternal, perichoretic indwelling,” an eternal communion, in which man participates.
In “Love: Philosophy’s Blind Spot? Toward a Wisdom of Love,” Emmanuel Tourpe suggests that the nature of love has not been sufficiently addressed in the history of thought. Love, writes Tourpe, is almost unthinkable in that it “gives itself to thought under the form of polarities”: action and reception, ecstasy and enstasy, wealth and poverty, etc. This tension, he says, is both love itself and what love engenders. It is this tension, Tourpe proposes, that allows us to see the true nature of love as fecundity. Love is what makes these polarities fecund and visible, because the “‘ever-more’ of love is an ‘ever-more-concrete,’ an ‘ever-more-real.’”
Finally on the theme of poverty, we have two articles that reflect on the ways in which some of the challenges and controversies, in the attempt to appropriate and institutionalize St. Francis of Assisi’s great charism, inadvertently planted the seeds of modernity. In “Most High Poverty: The Challenge of the Franciscan Experiment,” Olivier Boulnois explores the radical nature of the Franciscan tradition of poverty, and how it came to underlie some of the forms of contemporary culture. St. Francis’s call to altissima povertà, or the most high poverty, was both a challenge and a fructifying spirit to the Church and the world, but after his death, a question arose: is it possible to own nothing? And if it is, is it possible for the Franciscan brothers to formalize this, in their order, as a right? Boulnois traces the history of these two questions, showing how this “Franciscan idea paved the way for a revolutionary critique of all institutions.” The Anglican theologian John Milbank also addresses the radical character of Franciscan poverty in “The Franciscan Conundrum.” He asks if the Franciscan legacy, “for all of the life it has brought to the Church, at the same time has introduced an ambiguity.” Though St. Francis demonstrated in a comprehensive way the worth of poverty, so to speak, Milbank speculates about some of the profound implications of trying to institutionalize radical poverty in a one-sided way as a universal human norm.
Also in this issue, we present an exchange between Roch Kereszty and Mark S. Kinzer regarding Messianic Judaism on the occasion of the publication of Kinzer’s book Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church. The two authors discuss the new and renewed opening for ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism brought forth at the Second Vatican Council, and each recommends and explores fruitful topics for the dialogue between the Church and Messianic Jews. All three articles in the exchange dwell in large part on Israel-Christology and show, as Kereszty writes, that “the deeper we penetrate the integral mystery of Christ and the Church, the deeper we also reach into the mystery of Israel.”
In Retrieving the Tradition, we offer a selection from Balthasar’s book Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence. Balthasar explores the importance of poverty to Georges Bernanos’s life and work, writing that “in the end, what most greatly concerned him was a renewal of the spirit of poverty.” For Bernanos, Communist and liberal ideologies aimed at eliminating the poor, a course of action that would ultimately end in eliminating the memory and knowledge of Christ: “extreme spiritual poverty, however, has meaning and value only because Christ became the poorest among us. . . . The condition of poverty becomes a worthy and honorable thing by reference to Christ.”
We also present in Retrieving the Tradition a passage from Ferdinand Ulrich’s book Atheism and the Incarnation (Atheismus und Menschwerdung). The passage contains a concise explanation of a theme important to the German philosopher’s work: the interplay of wealth and poverty. Here we see this interplay as it has to do with man’s encounter with and appropriation of his own origin: if I do not possess my own origin, do I really possess myself? Ulrich meditates on this question, showing that precisely this poverty of not being the origin of oneself is what allows the space for the incredible wealth of being to be given to us. It is therefore in this very poverty that we become wealthy, or, as Ulrich writes, we are glory “‘through’ poverty!”
In Notes and Comments, Antonio Maria Sicari’s “Eucharist and Kenosis” meditates on the sacrament he describes as “the greatest point of Christ’s kenosis.” Christ offers himself most humbly under the species of bread and wine—allows himself to be exposed, Sicari reminds us—and this act of offering reveals something about the nature of God. “Kenosis,” he writes, “must be traced back to its trinitarian source, where the divine persons, in their interrelations, already confront us with the incredible mystery of the ‘poverty of God.’”
Finally, Communio is pleased to welcome Anna Camacho as our new managing editor, and we extend our profound gratitude to Katherine G. Quan, who leaves the position after three years and many fruitful contributions, including the journal’s beautiful redesign. We wish her well and are grateful for the time she spent at Communio.