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The Eschaton Has Been Immanentized III: Called to be Christ

August 29, 2009

Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!

When we think of the work of Christ, what is there left for him to do that he has not already done to establish God’s kingdom? As Sergius Bulgakov tells us, nothing:

Does his working of our salvation not require yet new times and new seasons? Can it be the case that, even despite the abiding in the glory and the overcoming of the kenosis, there remains something unfinished in Christ’s work, something that is yet to be done and that therefore depends on new times and seasons? To this audacious question, we have a clear answer in Revelation, which attests that the eternal life of Christ in the heavens, at the right hand of the Father, that is, in all the power of his divinity, remains unfathomably and antinomically liked to the times and seasons of this world, whose duration is now fixed: It extends from the Ascension to the parousia.[1]

His kingdom has been set up by his passion; the incarnation, the initial kenosis of the Son, led to his final kenosis, that of his death and descent into hades. It was only by giving himself over in a total loving obedience to the Father that he could show us the kingdom of God, for it is in this way he shows it is the kingdom of love. When he rose in glory, we see the glory of love, the glory of God’s eschaton. And since creation was made so that it could participate in the glory of God, the resurrection is the goal and summit of creation as Balthasar points out: “One can say, therefore, that the entire action of the living God in all ages has had as its goal the Resurrection of the Son, that the completion of Christology found in the Father’s act is at the same time the fulfillment of the act of creation itself.”[2]

This is celebrated in Resurrection Matins with the following words: “It is the day of Resurrection, O people, let us be enlightened. It is the Passover, the Lord’s Passover. For, from death to life, and from earth to heaven Christ our God hath brought us over, singing the hymn of victory: Christ is risen from the dead.”

Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the eschatological act, for death has been overcome. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor. 15:26). While the eschaton has indeed become immanent, and the eschaton truly has been established and made its presence in time, because it is the eschaton, the world and all that is within it is also being moved toward it, towards full participation in the eschaton. This is not to say that the eschaton has anything left which needs to be fulfilled. It is because it is fulfilled that the world and all that is in it can be lifted up and find its place in the eschaton.

The kingdom of God has been established, and, in his death and resurrection, Christ has opened up a place for the whole of creation to join him with it. That is, because of the act of God on the cross, an act of love, we can now unite ourselves to Christ: even now, we can die to the self and put on Christ, have Christ live in and through us. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”  (Gal. 2:20). In this way we are to do the work of Christ, to be mediators to the world, to lift it up to the Father so that it can be transfigured by the glory of God’s love. “If the individual is unmade, indifferent, calmly receptive to the whole of God’s will, he does not sink into the ‘pathless’ abyss of Godhead: the Father’s infinite will fashions him in and according to his Son; thus he is given a path, which, as ‘being in Christ’ or ‘Christ being in him’, is totally specific.”[3]

We are able to be co-workers with Christ because we are to share in the mission of Christ, to bring into time that which has been eternally realized in the eschaton. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”  (1Peter 2:9). This is what it means to be a royal priesthood: to be co-mediators with Christ in the world so that we can accomplish in time what is established in eternity and bring that which is in time into eternity. This of course means that the spiritual and natural worlds are open to one another, and the dualism which would divide the two must be rejected as a Nestorian sociology. Even though modern thought prevails with this dualism, we must reject it, and its Nestorian disincarnate eschatology.  We must overcome this temptation toward dualism, founded upon the Gnostic division of body and spirit, and realize that only in their unity is there any real salvation.

S.L. Frank is right when he says, “We can fundamentally overcome this aberration of modern thought by perceiving the spiritual nature of society, which we can now define more precisely as the correlation between ‘we,’ the principle of sobornost’ constituting society, and the principle of ‘truth’ as the Divine principle in human life itself.”[4] The principle of sobornost is of our interdependent pan-unity; we must realize that there is no such thing as a pure individual. Society cannot be rejected; rather, it must be perfected by the incarnation, by bringing in the truth of revelation and using that truth to revitalize social action and interaction. But this would be impossible if the eschaton had not been immanentized, because, without the incarnation, the spiritual principle which is meant to guide humanity would remain cut off from it because of original sin. Those who would reject the immanentizatin of the eschaton work, whether or not they know it, for the continuation of original sin. They ignore their role in world history and find excuses to keep the world and its trajectory trapped in the never-ending cycle of sin, all while condemning the world for that sin. And because the world is condemned by them, they believe it is to be destroyed, and so they see no reason to care for the world (beyond what is needed for their own livelihood to be unaffected by the mire in the world, that is). But such an attitude must be rejected. God has given the world to humanity not to be rejected but to be loved and cherished so that it can find its glory in us, even as we find our glory in Christ.

But of course, we must remember that this work for the world and in the world is of course also with an in society. This can be seen by the work of Christ, who went into society and worked for its betterment:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Lk 4:6-21).

The work of the Lord, which is also our work, must ever remain within this context. Anyone who seeks to disassociate themselves from this work because “the eschaton has not been immanentized,” ignores Christ’s own words. The kingdom of God brings liberation to the oppressed, and we, as co-workers with Christ, continue to bring and manifest this work in the world. We are called Christians, because we have joined ourselves to Christ. Indeed, as St Cyril of Jerusalem points out, this means we can be called Christs once we have been baptized and anointed with the sacrament of confirmation:

Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, you have been made conformable to the Son of God; for God having foreordained us unto adoption as sons, made us to be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory. Having therefore become partakers of Christ, you are properly called Christs, and of you God said, Touch not My Christs , or anointed. Now you have been made Christs, by receiving the antitype of the Holy Ghost; and all things have been wrought in you by imitation , because you are images of Christ.[5]

By becoming one with Christ, we partake of Christ’s mission, a mission which has been accomplished eternally through his death and resurrection, but a mission which finds itself expressed throughout time as all that is in time is brought into that one universal work of Christ. Jesus set us into the world to transform it, to elevate it up into the kingdom of God. This is because the eschaton has descendend, has immanentized, so that through his descent, a descent into hades, he might take all things in and with him up as he ascended.[6] He has taken that which is of earth and made it his home. He has made those on the earth his friends. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14. He has lowered himself to our level, to become our friends, so that we might follow him and his example and rise up and share in the divine life. The eschaton is not to be removed from history – it is, rather, the fullness of history found in Christ. It’s presence in history shows that the fullness of time has been achieved, even if time itself continues:

Because the advent of Christ occurred in the time of the law of grace and in the demonstration of the often promised mercy and in the beginning of the sixth age, and all these things bespeak a fullness of time since the law of grace fortifies the law of Scripture and the achievement of the promise perfects the promise, and the sixth age by reason of the six-fold perfection resounds in fullness, it follows that in the coming of the Son of God there is said to be a fullness of God, not because in His advent time was ended but because the mysteries of time were achieved.[7]

May we continue the work of the fullness of time, the work of the eschaton in history, being Christs in the world, incarnating the grace of the kingdom around us. For Christ is risen!

“Christ is risen, Christ is risen! Joy from heaven is around us, Christ our Pasch now dwells among us. Lift your hearts and lift your voices. Mankind gratefully rejoices! Christ is risen, Christ is risen!”

If Christ is risen, then the eschaton has come: heaven is around us. The world is bathed in the grace of heaven. It’s our work to open the world up so as to receive this grace, so that it can be freedom from the bondage of sin (both individual sin and social sin). And this is only possible because the eschaton has been immanentized. For the Word has become flesh: those who deny the flesh and its glory follow the spirit of the anti-Christ, because the anti-Christ denies the world in order to deny God.

Footnotes

[1] Sergius Bulgakov says it well, “Does his working of our salvation not require yet new times and new seasons? Can it be the case that, even despite the abiding in the glory and the overcoming of the kenosis, there remains something unfinished in Christ’s work, something that is yet to be done and that therefore depends on new times and seasons? To this audacious question, we have a clear answer in Revelation, which attests that the eternal life of Christ in the heavens, at the right hand of the Father, that is, in all the power of his divinity, remains unfathomably and antinomically liked to the times and seasons of this world, whose duration is now fixed: It extends from the Ascension to the parousia,” Sergius Bulgakov, Bride of the Lamb. trans Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 2002), 393.

[2] Hans Us von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale, trans. Aidan Nichols (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1993), 205.

[3] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama II: Dramatis Personae: Man in God. trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 305.

[4] S.L. Frank, The Spiritual Foundations of Society. Trans. Boris Jakim (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1987), 106.

[5] St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures xxi.1 in NPNF2(7):149.

[6] “He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10).

[7] St Bonaventure, Breviloquium. Trans. Erwin Esser Nemmers (London: B. Herder Book Co., 1946), 119.

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5 Comments
  1. Ronald King permalink
    August 30, 2009 7:29 am

    Beautifully written Henry. Thank you for your passionate exploration of love.
    Henry, I have probably stated this before someplace so forgive me if I repeat myself. Could the fall or original sin actually be a misinterpretation of the plan of God? In other words, there could be no other way to God at this level of creation without the knowledge of good and evil. It seems that without this knowledge of good and evil there could be no free will which would lead to free choice.
    God would know the consequences of this particular aspect of His creation. and this would seem to be the natural law of this reality. To be made in His image and likeness would require us to know good and evil and to struggle to find our way to Him through the complexity of dualism which is the natural law of the physical realm. As such, it seems that God would then at the proper time reveal His path to us in the suffering and total annihilation of self through the path of loving our enemies even as they kill us because they do not know what they do. Given that we are Christians this is then our path of annihilation in loving as Christ loves.
    Sorry for the rambling. Sometimes when I start I do not know what will come. Thank you for these beautiful meditations on Love and the mind-altering experiences they bring me.

  2. August 30, 2009 11:10 am

    Ronald,

    When dealing with the Genesis story, there are many different possible interpretations that have been given in patristic and traditional theology. There are a few aspects which tend to be universal:

    1) That humanity in some way disobeyed God
    2) This disobedience was a kind of egoistical assertion which tried to place oneself as equal in essence to God
    3) And thus in this egoism, there was an initial evil which was done, which corrupted the humanity and divided what was once united along the lines of individualistic egosim.

    Now, there are questions about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Some would say what it means is “knowledge of the experience of evil” of “having done evil” for disobedience, that it was a token show of faith in God or not. Others, like St Irenaeus suggest that the tree was meant to be taken, and it was to given increase in knowledge, but only after maturity and proving oneself worthy of it. But in all of them, there was indeed something which was evil done; and yet we were called to know what is good. Evil is generally seen as a privation and perversion of what is good.

    Balthasar goes on to explain the issue of God’s foreknowledge along the lines of: God created the world in order to have the world be brought up and experience the divine life. The creation of the world comes out of the internal self-kenosis of the Father in the generation of the son, creating the space within the Trinity for creation and its own freedom. In that freedom, God has also made the world so that if it stood in faith or not, God’s desire for the world, that it could find a place in the divine life, would be established: the cross, the giving of the Son in kenosis to the world was planned at creation, so that the self-giving love of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father can lead to our own sharing of the Son’s self-giving back to the Father. So it is not that God created us to fall, but created a world in which a fall is possible and yet not divert the divine plan.

    I’m not saying these ways of viewing the question are necessarily the answer as much as there are many possible answers. It’s not an easy question and it is indeed one which is still be explored. But they rely upon the sense that humanity “Grasp for itself” in egoism instead of joined in with God’s love which led to the fall and original sin.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the reflection; I am really trying to draw out the implications of our theological tradition to make sure we live the life we are called to live, a life of love; it’s not easy and I always need these reminders myself.

  3. Ronald King permalink
    August 30, 2009 6:03 pm

    Henry, I would tend to agree with St. Irenaeus to a certain extent. I believe the knowledge was meant to be revealed but maturity cannot take place until wisdom has formed. Wisdom in our human history cannot occur without leaving the comfort and safety of the womb and home. An example is with the prodigal son when he suffered the loss of everything and knew where to return. The son who never left did not welcome him home. He never matured into love but remained in being obedient.
    Now, how can the first two humans know obedience or develop an ego if they do not know di sobedience and fear. The ego is the result of the interplay of the id(instinctive impulses) and the superego(introjected rules and consequences) as they struggle for expression and control within the context of human relationships. The ego is born of fear and then the primitive defenses form to protect the self from the internal consequences associated with the object of that fear.
    I must keep this short but I believe that the original sin is the interpretation of the event that marked human awakening into the world of dualism. From that point on sin was born of blame and They knew no death. They knew no evil. They did not know God. When they hid from God it was a sign of their innocence and their ignorance. Egoism is the result of human interaction with humans and a competition for superiority in this reality.
    This definitely needs a much more involved discussion. I would love to pursue this more. I truly believe that the interpretation of the beginning of human history creates the present crisis in our faith today. We are created for love but we are seen as disobedient when we are really innocent because we do not know what we do.

    • August 30, 2009 6:28 pm

      Ronald

      The difficulty is this: if man was meant to disobey then it is no longer disobedience, which is the contradiction involved. I would say we can have maturity without sin — Christ and Mary both show us this, in their own sinlessness. But we must not confuse “knowledge of good and evil” as wisdom, in many ways, it is the opposite of wisdom. I think we agree on some points, but I do think the foundation is the attempt to be one’s own source for existence, which, because we are not, cuts us up and brings about the egoism.

      Anyway, I agree it is a difficult issue, and I don’t have all the answers. I think we can bracket a “general disposition” and realize some of it we cannot figure out beyond the revelation which we have, revelation which is not “pure history” but a story telling us something about the human condition and the foundation of sin. Maybe one day I will be able to write more on this — but, if you are interested in this line of talk, I would also recommend St Athanasius’ Contra Gentiles and On the Incarnation (http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/athanasius/incarnation/incarnation.1.htm to the part dealing with creation and fall) as a good start to see ancient reflections on this.

  4. Ronald King permalink
    August 31, 2009 6:51 am

    Thanks Henry. I am going to that reference now.

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