Monday, August 08, 2005

love as self gift -- part 2

II. Theological Reflection

Fr. Moyer claims several theological reasons for not welcoming the ministrations of Bp. Bennison at Good Shepherd. In a letter from early March 2002, shortly before being inhibited, Fr. Moyer asked Bp. Bennison to clarify his position by “publicly affirming Jesus Christ’s uniqueness and bodily Resurrection, the unacceptability of sex outside heterosexual marriage, and the Holy Scriptures as God’s inspired Word.” And in a letter dated March 5, 2002, from Fr. Moyer’s lawyer, Mr. John H. Lewis Jr. to the Chancellor of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the question was raised as to whether it was Bp. Bennison himself who had openly renounced the doctrine of the Episcopal Church (consonant with Title IV Canon 10 Sec. 1). [9]

It seems that the sorts of problems represented by the problems with Good Shepherd are always exacerbated and often caused by various parties’ standing on principle, demanding their due, fighting for their rights. The conflict between Good Shepherd, Rosemont, and the Bishop of Pennsylvania is no exception. I recognize that many see a distinction between love and justice, love being understood as self-effacing and justice being concerned with self-interests. [10] I would argue, though, that such an understanding of love and justice is incorrect and ultimately unchristian. In the West, theologians have traditionally held that God is a simple substance, that God has all perfections and has them maximally. It follows from such a doctrine that love and justice (assuming they are perfections) are really the same thing, and that that thing is the Essence of divinity. But one need not get into economic Trinitarian theology to reach such a conclusion, for if we hold Christ to be the paragon of love and justice, then to hold simultaneously that there is an incompatibility between them is to hold that there is an incoherency behind the person of Jesus.

That we ought to look to Christ as the source and content of Christian moral teaching is a broader and more easily defensible claim yet. And just as Christ did not regard equality with God as an opportunity to stand on his divine prerogatives (cf. Philippians 2.5ff), so the model for Christians is not to regard our own relationship with God, nor what follows from that relationship, as an opportunity to lift ourselves up as special cases, or as meriting anything whatsoever. Rather are we to imitate Christ in his self-emptying, taking up our cross and following him (Mark 8.34).

In these, as in most of my theological reflections, I am guided by Kierkegaard. In Works of Love, he writes “Love is a giving of oneself; that it seeks love is again love and is the highest love” (WL 264). Love therefore is to be the guiding principle of all Christian activity. And the logic of love is such that it seeks itself: love seeks love. And because God is love (1 John 4), to acknowledge that Christian love seeks love is to acknowledge that Christian love seeks God. Self-giving love consists “in helping the other person to seek God” (WL 264).

Kierkegaard goes on, in Works of Love, to speak of justice on the terms of the World. “Justice is identified by its giving each his own, just as it also in turn claims its own. This means that justice pleads the cause of its own, divides and assigns, determines what each can lawfully call his own, judges and punishes if anyone refuses to make any distinction between mine and yours” (WL 265). And this describes exactly what happens when Christians fight among one another over property. They seek to divide and assign, to allot, to seek their own. Or sometimes they ask the civil magistrate to divide and assign on their behalf.

One wonders what would have happened had the situation in Rosemont been a competition to see who could out-give the other. How might things have been different? Our Lord, after all, did not stand on principle before Caiphas, Herod, and Pilate. Had he insisted on the world’s justice, he would have loudly maintained his innocence and (who knows?) he might have been persuasive, and we might have gone unredeemed. But he did not, because love seeks not its own, but empties itself on behalf of the other. Kierkegaard goes on to explain the essential unity of the virtues love and justice. Our lives, as Christians, are grounded in love, namely the love of God that shows itself in Christ’s outpouring on the cross. Justice is all about demarcating mine and yours.

As Paul says, ‘All things are yours,’ and as the truly loving one in a certain divine sense says: All is mine. And yet this happens simply and solely by his having no mine at all; therefore: ‘All things are mine – I, who have no mine at all.’ But the fact that all things are his is a divine secret, since humanly speaking the truly loving one, the sacrificing, the self-giving one who loves, totally self-denying in all things, is humanly speaking the injured one, the most injured of all, even if nhe himself makes himself that by continually giving himself. (WL 268)

For when one loves perfectly, “the wondrous thing occurs that is heaven’s blessing upon self-denying love – in salvation’s mysterious understanding all things become his, his who had no mine at all, his who in self-denial made yours all that was his” (WL 268).


9. Bp. Bennison, at Easter 2003 wrote an article entitled “The Challenge of Easter” for the Pennsylvania Episcopalian wherein he claimed that Jesus was a sinner who “acknowledged his own sin [and] knows himself to be forgiven.” Apart from whether this might actually be true, the fact remains that this statement is radically counter to Episcopal and Anglican doctrine.

10. I believe such a distinction is, for example, at the bottom of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Love and Justice. [GOE, anyone?]

1 comment:

Johnny Awesomo said...

O Wb, you are so funny. I thought that this was a serious blog!

Wittgenstein called the other day, he says he wants you to see other people.