Friday, June 08, 2007

take. eat.

The sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ, in its radical self-referentiality refuses to permit itself to be objectified in anything like a sense-empirical transaction, nor even in intellectualization. Instead it draws the independent subjectivity of the beholder into itself. As death, it kills those who witness it. The epistemological free agent is incapable of resisting its radical compulsion, and is thus incapable of remaining epistemologically free. The Cross transforms those who would circumscribe it in thought, word, or deed. All things pass away in the theanthropic sacrifice, and all things are made new in the theanthropic resurrection. What the Cross compels, therefore, is a participation in itself. The Cross is a calling to itself; it is the true and universal human vocation. (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite speaks in the following way of God the Son, in his singular Gift: “Through an excess of loving goodness He transcends Himself, and descends to dwell in all things by virtue of the ecstatic power beyond all being that comes forth from Himself,” (The Divine Names, 4.13). It is therefore not in an awesome display of what we have come to call “power” that the glory of God is revealed. (Our conceptualizations themselves must be reconfigured, born again.) Just as the divine Gift is entirely gratuitous, though it cannot be withstood; so the Power and the Glory, though incapable of being resisted, are themselves manifested in their Bearer having been entirely overcome and emptied. The Greek Orthodox theologian Archimandrite Vasileios, abbot of the Athonite monastery Stavronikita, puts it this way: “…We see the glory of God, not in the form of the Pantokrator, but revealed as it appears in the act of the Father’s offering and sacrifice of the Son: in the ultimate humiliation of the Servant of God,” (Hymn of Entry, 58).

The radical nature of this Gift is further radicalized in that it is supratemporalized, manifest as such in the liturgical sacrifice of the Eucharist. That is, the Gift gives itself supratemporally on thousands of altars through the millennia, and around the world. In the catholic identification of the consecrated Eucharistic elements with the flesh of the God-man, that is with the very substantiality of the Gift, Christ is “offered to us, broken and poured out,” (Hymn of Entry, 59). The economics of sacrifice thereby become altogether one-sided. It isn’t just that Christ is given to us; it isn’t just that he is given to us broken and poured out. The sacrificial Gift of Christ is his own flesh as food, his own blood as drink. It is given as that which is taken, in the fullest possible sense; rather, that which is not merely taken, but taken and consumed. The Gift is radically appropriated by the recipient. It is internalized in the fullest sense, and in being internalized, it internalizes the recipient. Christ enters substantially into the communicant and thus brings him, in turn, into the divine economy, into the very heart of the paschal mystery. The compulsion of the sacrificial Gift manifests itself in being consumed, and in consuming the consumer. “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet,” (Judges 14.14). The experiential subject of the divine Sacrifice becomes its object, he is appropriated by the Sacrifice, and becomes the sacrificial victim in union with the Lamb, eternally offered before the throne of the Father.

It becomes clear in what sense the pure gift is beyond the horizon of expectation. The fetishized pure gift is only capable of being offered by a god. It only occurs in myth. In every case of thematized, temporal giving or sacrifice, the do ut des of paganism, the Derridean concern obtains. The gift is cancelled out by the expectation of reciprocity. It becomes, as soon as it is given and recognized, a market transaction, an exchange, and as such, a non-gift. But insofar as the pure gift only occurs in myth, insofar as it is only capable of being offered by the god, it does occur in the Christ myth. And because the holy sacrifice is God offering God, it is actual, and therefore possible. Because the sacrificial Gift is a gift of the theanthropic, of that which is very God and very man, it is capable of bridging the ontological, conceptual, and linguistic gap between the Giver and the receiver. It does so by bringing the recipient into the heart of the Gift, by transforming the receiver into that which is offered, into the Gift itself.

What is necessary is not so much a demythologizing of the event, but rather a mythologizing. It must be removed from the realm of the scientific, of the sociological. The mythologization occurs on two levels, both of which constitute instances of the signification of the Gift. First there is the pure gift itself, the sacrifice of the flesh of God which, as has been noted, is entirely self-referential. It is beyond the pale of predication and conceptual circumscription. The experiencing subject stands before the Gift on the Gift’s own terms. In terms of signifier and signified, the two are one. The signifier is that which it signifies. And the same instance of self-referentiality takes place again in the liturgical action of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the gift is disbursed. The Eucharistic elements serve as a prism, for the refraction of the divine ενέργεια. In the sacrifice, thanksgiving (ευχαριστία) is offered to God for the sacrifice itself and for the totality of divine Grace. Bread and wine are offered as symbols of our own categorical creative initiatives, as return-gifts. The offerers of the sacrifice are themselves offered in their totality, body and soul. And most fundamentally, the Eucharistic sacrifice is the Gift of God, the divine flesh offered in virtue of the sacerdotal grace of the officiant, acting in persona Christi. Therefore, it is the same Gift as that of which it is a signifier, and that which it signifies. By being at once signifier and signified, the sacrifice manifests its power of compulsion. As referend, it is beyond the horizon of expectation, utterly mythologized; yet as the term of reference, it draws itself into the economy of the same, is thematized in the realm of the categorical and becomes itself an object of experience.

No comments: