Homo creatus est
ac manere in Dei servitute.
and remain in the service of God.
1. Man as Yearning
Man is “created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of this to save [his] soul”.1 Constant repetition has made this line from the Ignatian Exercises seem like a trite platitude. What could we possibly say about these words that has not already been said before?
Of course, scarcely anyone still remembers, or is even willing to acknowledge, this Ignatian insight, though Ignatius himself understood it to be the “principle and foundation” of all human and Christian truth or at least a summary of the ABCs for people wanting an introduction to Christianity. But quite apart from the present situation, in which the Ignatian formula would actually strike many of today’s abecedarians as an unexpected novelty, a bird’s-eye view of the history of Christian theology reveals an astonishing truth: the seemingly banal gateway to the Spiritual Exercises turns out to be anything but traditional, at least if it is the great tradition of European thinking that we have in mind.
Let us begin with a decisive turning point before taking a brief look at the earlier stages of the story. I am referring to the moment when a young student addicted to a life of immorality happened upon the book (as he tells it) “of a certain Cicero”, a book lost today apart from a few fragments. The volume was entitled Hortensius: On the Blessed Life, and its author brought home to the fiery spirit of the young Augustine that, if one wanted to attain such a life, one had to strive for true wisdom, which meant that one had to abstain from coarse pleasures. And what man worthy of the name would refuse to strive for blessedness?
Cicero was not inventing anything new when he recommended this manner of life as the surest way to attain blessedness. He was simply acting as a mouthpiece for the venerable Greek teaching about wisdom, which—whether in its Socratic-Platonic, Stoic, Plotinian, Neo-Pythagorean, or even Epicurean version—did not yet distinguish between philosophy and theology. At one end of the arc, Plato’s Symposium comprehensively explored the soul’s upward flight to the ultimate divine beauty on the wings of erotic yearning. At the other end, Plotinus worked out his central concept of “conversion” (epistrophe), of upwardly tensed yearning for the Origin (horme).2 Nevertheless, the center of concern was always the same: the true nobility of man. Everyone agreed that man must not settle for ephemeral pleasures and joys if he is really serious about discovering the means to the definitive satisfaction of his drive for happiness.
In what did this satisfaction, this blessed life, actually consist? The answer could vary. It could be a Platonic ascent from the passing world of shadows into the light of the eternal ideas and the true Good, an Aristotelian life of contemplating truth liberated from desire, a Stoic effort to repress the passions that darken the spirit in order to attain rest in God, or an Epicurean tempering of the enjoyment of pleasure for the sake of achieving balance (and thus happiness). In every case, though, the search for wisdom (philo-sophia) found its center of gravity in man’s ordination to the blessed life. Blessedness, it was generally thought, was the life for which man’s nature’s essential pattern truly fit him, so that once he had finally “converted” from the pure earthliness into which he had sunk (think of Plato’s Parable of the Cave), his natural striving would bear him upward toward the light. But since Greek thought was still innocent of the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, it clothed this idea in a mythological guise: the human soul, sunk down from the divine heights, nonetheless contained a spark of divinity, and it was this spark that compelled the soul to work its way back to the lost paradise from which it had been exiled. The dormant ember lay waiting to be rekindled even in the soul of Meno’s base-born slave; under all the ash there slumbered a recollection of what we once knew and enjoyed…
After having passed through the school of Plato, Augustine experiences all the dramatic torment of a divided soul before finally converting to a life dedicated to one thing only: yearning for God. The basic word in his vocabulary is desiderium, that is, unrest, desire, intense longing to slake his thirst for life in God. Of course, as a Christian, he knows that the trail of yearning has been paved with Christ’s humility and Cross rather than by the self-assurance of Plotinian gnosis. And yet, he does not hesitate to apply the poet’s phrase “trahit quemque sua voluptas”3 to the Christian experience of the attraction of grace. Augustine even calls the attraction “pleasure”, which he thinks of as preceding desire like a torch to light up its way in the darkness of the night. Of course, for Augustine this spiritual pleasure has nothing to do with the physical constraint that the Jansenists erroneously ascribed to it. On the contrary, it leads him to the freedom to follow his desiderium without the encumbrance of earthly distractions; it gives him the “sun-like eye” that enables him to behold the light of God. Significantly, the image of the “sun-like eye” is borrowed from Plotinus, for whom “the eye would never have seen the sun unless it had received sun-likeness in itself; the soul would never see the beautiful unless it had itself become beautiful. So let the man who yearns to behold the good and the beautiful become godlike and beautiful” (Enneads I, 6, 9). Plato had already made a similar claim: “The eye seeks light because it contains something light-like” (Timaeus 45bd). The structure of Augustine’s Confessions reflects Plotinus’ basic intuition: before its conversion (epistrophe), the soul lacked understanding, but when it finally turns around, it becomes “nothing but yearning” (ephesis monon) that projects itself toward the One Good (Enneads III, 9, 5).
Looking backward from Augustine, we could demonstrate a similar thought pattern in the conversion of the philosopher Justin or in Gregory of Nyssa’s account of Moses’ ascent of the mountain of God. Because Gregory attaches so much importance to Genesis’ depiction of man as originally created in the image of God, he affirms that the soul’s self-purification (à la Plotinus) enables it to look into itself as a mirror and catch there an anticipatory glimpse of the Archetype in whose image it was created. Looking forward from Augustine, we could say that Bernard and his circle would introduce a new note into spiritual theology by assigning a central place to the idea of sapientia,4 whose derivation from sapere—to taste, to savor—they also explicitly emphasized. For them, the spiritual ascent to God aims at an ever purer, ever more intense experience of the divine “sweetness”. The twelfth century, which is perhaps the spiritually richest in the history of the Church, is thoroughly saturated with the Augustinian-Bernardine mysticism of yearning. At least this is the conclusion to which we are led by Jean Leclercq in his eloquently (and revealingly) titled The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.5
Astonishingly, even Thomas Aquinas’ turn to Aristotle in the thirteenth did not change this basic approach to religious existence. In the Summa Theologiae, where Thomas lays out the whole substance of philosophical-theological thought according to his own original plan, taking the paradox of man as the starting point for his destiny and therefore of his definition: Man, Thomas says, is the being whose striving for the blessed life (beatitudo) cannot be satisfied by any worldly thing yet who needs the assistance of divine grace in order to attain the vision of God that is his end. It is this very need, in fact, that constitutes man’s nobility. The imposing theological ethics of the Prima Secundae and Secunda Secundae6 lays out the path of maturation toward the end of human life (we could say that this part of the Summa operates with an expanded Christian version of the Platonic-Plotinian model of ascent, into which Thomas also incorporates the tradition received from Aristotle). To the amazement of many readers, it is only in the Tertia Pars7 that the Angelic Doctor turns to the doctrine of Christ and the sacraments. Obviously, Thomas begins with God, the triune Creator, and his ascent is saturated with Christian theology. Nevertheless, the basic design of the whole reflects the same ancient pattern whose essential shape we find most purely articulated in Plotinus (and even more explicitly worked out in Scotus Eriugena): the emanation of all things from God (“emanatio totius entis a Deo”:8 Summa Theologiae I, 45, 1) and their return to him.
The whole patristic-Scholastic model reflects the inevitable bias of ancient thought in that it begins with man and the inquiry into his essence, which it then seeks to capture by reasoning backward from human need and striving. Instead of the gods presupposed by pagan antiquity, the Fathers and Scholastics presuppose, that is, “posit a priori” the triune Deity. By his very essence, the idea goes, man needs God in order to become himself. He is like the limp finger Adam stretches out toward God in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. Man is a dynamism that points into infinity but that cannot attain the Infinite unless the Infinite comes down to meet it. Given such a tradition, it is no surprise that the same pattern persists today in the major philosophical-theological accounts of the God-man relationship derived from Joseph Maréchal (however much the branches may otherwise diverge from one another). These accounts echo Augustine, and even Thomas, in their affirmation of an unquenchable dynamic striving that reaches out beyond all attainable possibilities toward the immediate vision of the Absolute. Such striving, we are told, is the prior condition both of the knowability of finite (“categorial”) objects and of our capacity to realize, and thus transcend, their relativity. And woe to us if we fail to transcend the finite! Augustine’s constant refrain, “transcende teipsum”,9 is repeated word for word: “In knowledge and freedom man is inescapably the essence of transcendence.” “Whenever [man] is engaged with some individual, nameable object of his everyday experience, [he is] always simultaneously beyond it.” Man “goes toward any given object by transcending it”. This “movement is boundless”, it goes “into the infinite and nameless”. “We devise concepts and words for this infinity, but they come after the fact. They do not characterize the original experience of the nameless mystery that surrounds the island of our everyday awareness. Rather, they are the small tokens and idols that we set up—and must set up—as constant reminders of the original mystery, which gives itself silently to our experience and, in giving itself, withdraws into silence again. They are reminders of the foreignness of the mystery, in which we reside as if in a dark night or a formless desert.”10 This account of the absolute ineffability of the “mystery” could be just as easily applied to Plotinus’ One (hen): Plotinian ecstasy and the Maréchalian-Rahnerian Vorgriff11 share a common intellectual origin.
Now, if, as Thomas teaches, God is indispensable for the achievement of man’s end, understood as the satisfaction of his hunger for beatitude, does this teaching not unintentionally open the door to the dangerous possibility of treating God as a means instead of as an end? The question was already the subject of an enormously intense debate in the Middle Ages. For a time, the controversy remained latent, as the doctors pondered whether man’s final end lay primarily in his subjective beatitude (whose object is God), as the Dominicans tended to hold, or primarily in the Divine Object (who is also man’s beatitude), as the Franciscans typically taught. The debate became acute when a certain Hannibaldus audaciously taught that man’s last end is not God but beatitude and that God is therefore sought for the sake of beatitude (Peter Olivi refutes this doctrine at length in his questions on the second book of the Sentences).12 Less than a century ago a certain catechism posed the question “Why was man put on earth?”, to which the children were expected to give the following answer: “Man was put on earth in order to get to heaven and attain blessedness.” God can of course still be man’s goal, he can still be passionately sought through asceticism, mysticism, and conscientious observance of the commandments. Nevertheless, he remains just that: “my goal”, the end that promises my ultimate wholeness. Despite its refutation by Plato, Protagoras’ maxim that man is the measure of all things seems to have lost none of its hold on men’s minds.
2. Man for God
It is now time to ask about the source of Ignatius’ very different-sounding account of man’s vocation. He certainly did not get it from philosophy—as if his “Principle and Foundation” even remotely resembled a philosophical prelude to the theological four weeks of the Exercises! This should be clear from the foregoing discussion, which highlights the teaching of philosophy that man comes out of the divine world and that his whole effort is to get back into it.
Let me add parenthetically that this point is corroborated by a consideration of the massive patristic and Scholastic inflation of the idea of man as the image of God, which makes only a brief appearance in the creation narrative and plays no role in the Old Testament after that.13 Even in the Genesis passage, moreover, the idea originally refers, not to man’s spiritual nature, but (as Sirach 17:5 reminds us) to the dominion over the birds and the beasts bestowed on him by God. By contrast, the “image” that, according to the theologians, man finds inscribed in his being and that he is supposed to develop through gradual ascent into a “likeness” with God is a clear borrowing from the Greek idea of homoiōsis.14 Paul’s citation from Aratus in his discourse at the Areopagus (Acts 17:28) is yet another piece of evidence pointing to the same conclusion. Biblically speaking, the idea that man is God’s image remains insignificant until Christ appears in our midst as the Archetype who re-creates “our former man” (Rom 6:6) as a “new man” (Eph 2:15), “conformed to [his] image” (Rom 8:29) and “renewed in knowledge after the image of his creator” (Col 3:10). But there is no mention of any of this in the “Principle and Foundation”. So where does Ignatius get his definition of man’s purpose, which he sums up in the Spanish word para, that is, “toward”?
We find the Ignatian ideal expressed with overwhelming clarity in the Psalms, the record of Old Testament man’s understanding that to exist is to be in covenant with God. The Psalms give pride of place to the praise of God. It is glorious that God exists, and this very fact is the substance of perfect joy. Israel celebrates feasts of rejoicing with drums and cymbals, and it calls upon all of creation, the mountains and the isles, to clap their hands: “O come, let us sing to the Lord…for the Lord is a great God, and a great king above all gods.” And the Psalmist never tires of enumerating and extolling God’s attributes: his “unsearchable greatness”, his “glorious splendor”, his power, his goodness, his righteousness, his fidelity and sanctity (Ps 145), along with all the wonders he works in the history of salvation. God has admitted man to his covenant, the great event at which one can never sufficiently gaze in wonder. In this event, God has made his word and his law known to Israel, and there can be only one answer to this gesture: to recount what God has done, to praise and extol his deed. Westermann has demonstrated that this praise also contains the idea of “thanks”, for which there is otherwise no word in Hebrew.15 Westermann also shows that the praise of God continues to resound even in the psalms of lamentation (which increasingly become psalms of petition). Israel’s praise is anything but the rote performance of some ceremony owed to a ruler. Rather, it is an expression of the innermost heart of the people, of the individual, and of the Psalmist who gives utterance to both.
It needs no demonstration that the Psalmist’s praise is at the same time an expression of reverence. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord”; “come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”; “tremble before him, all the earth!” The heavenly Jerusalem resounds with the same songs of praise. Indeed, the blessed enjoy their eternal beatitude (in part) by ceaselessly prostrating themselves before the One seated upon the throne and casting their own crowns and merits before him who alone is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things” (Rev 4:11). There is an unbridgeable distance between the Creator and the creature: heaven is his throne, while man’s allotted place is the earth, though it, too, belongs to God (Ps 89:11).
Because praise and reverence place man at God’s service, they also constitute man’s distinctive excellence—a point so obvious that it hardly deserves mention. “Serve the Lord with fear”; “serve the Lord with gladness”; “may…all nations serve him” (and they “shall”). If God wishes to “be there” for his people (and this presence begins already in his mysterious name), they will all the more “be there” for him alone. The people never cease to learn firsthand that their salvation lies in this reverent praise and service. God has placed them before the decision between one of two ways: service, which brings salvation; or refusal to serve, which brings punishment and death. Service here means service in the Temple but also service in keeping, and rejoicing in, the commandments (Ps 119).
To be sure, this definition of Israel’s purpose and vocation comes laden with all the paradoxes of its existence. Prior to any mention of them, however, we must first recognize a simple fact: Israel finds its salvation in praising, reverencing, and serving God—and Israel knows this. It is only once this basic fact is acknowledged that the questions can emerge: Is the sum total of man’s salvation already contained in serving God and rejoicing in him? Does God not also make promises of earthly blessing—to Abraham, for starters—that are included in the reward for his service: the land and its abundance, victory over Israel’s enemies, and peace? Israel knows about these promises, but this knowledge brings it up against a further paradox, which is probably unique in the whole history of religion. God makes his covenant with, and vouchsafes all its promised goods to, the living. There is no prospect of existing in God’s presence after death. When he falls ill, Hezekiah begs God for a few more years to praise him, since praise, reverence, and service cease in the underworld. The paradoxes extend into the domain of ethics as well: If earthly blessing is the reward given to the Godfearing man, why do the wicked prosper? The argument that they will come to a bad earthly end offers no satisfactory way out of the problem, hence the accusations of Job and the skepticism of Qoheleth. For the time being, the bright, indubitable center is surrounded by a dark swath of questions. The astonishing thing, though, is not that the questions found their way into the Bible but that this bright center could ever have existed in the first place. The amazing thing is the very fact that God was able to teach man to praise, revere, and serve him and to regard these acts as his salvation. This astounding success also lays the necessary groundwork for the shining manifestation of Jesus Christ, which will illumine the band of darkness still encircling the covenant.
3. God for Man
The miracle of the Old Testament attains a new intensity in Jesus Christ. In him, the wonder becomes a mystery that both ratifies the achievements of the Old Covenant and lights up its remaining patches of darkness. It is this mystery that finally makes the Ignatian definition of man fully intelligible.
In his earthly living and dying, Jesus perfectly accomplishes the ideal that the righteous man of the Old Testament attempted to display in his own life. The sole aim of Jesus’ existence, in other words, is the pure glorification of the Father. It is to do, not his own will, but the Father’s that he came; it is not his own teaching that he proclaims but the teaching of the One who sent him. Jesus forbids men to take to themselves any of the titles belonging to God alone, such as “father” or “teacher”. In contrast to earthly kings, with their thirst for domination, Jesus impresses upon his disciples in both word and example that, if anyone wants to “be greater”, he can achieve his desire only by humbling himself, entering into the attitude of pure service, and descending to “the last place”. The first thing he teaches the disciples to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer is the glorification of the Father, reverence for his name, and a service whose performance must be as perfect on earth as it is in heaven. And this service penetrates into the dark borderland that had once lain beyond the bright center of the covenant—into death, indeed, into the most painful of deaths. It is precisely here that praise, reverent distance (“why have you forsaken me?”), and ultimate service (Jesus’ commission has been carried out “to the end”) are now to reach their culmination. By the same token, even the obscurity of Sheol, which was once impervious to the light of the covenant, is now drawn into the sphere of man’s vocation. Even “Death”, followed by Hades (Rev 6:8), is now included within man’s (definitively decided) destiny. From the point of view of heaven, human limits (ignominy, the brevity of life, pain, dying, and being dead) no longer carry any weight. Praise, reverence, and service limitlessly exceed all earthly boundaries. This is because, as it would seem, “Thy will” is now accomplished on earth “as it is in heaven”, and its infinity is no longer hampered by any earthly limits. The border formerly separating God’s dwelling place “in heaven” and the land allotted to man “on earth” has apparently been removed.
But what does all this mean? Nothing less than this: the very principle that distinguishes man as a creature from God the Creator has its archetype, the condition of its possibility, in God himself.
God and man no longer face off as Master and servant, because the Lord himself has become a servant. This seems to imply a divine power to assume servanthood from within, which suggests a whole series of questions: Can we say that God himself contains the archetype of praise, reverence, and service, and so the very possibility of creaturehood itself? Are there grounds for thinking that the Son’s eternal otherness vis-à-vis the Father, indeed, his eternal readiness to do the Father’s entire will, even down to the uttermost consequences of created freedom, is the original foundation of the creature’s otherness and attitude before God? Can we affirm that this distance and reverence between the Divine Persons (which they never leave behind) is the eternal precondition of their oneness in the Holy Spirit: the Father “greater than I”, even as “I and the Father are one”?
If the answer to these questions is affirmative, then talk of the “image” and “likeness” of God can resume its former importance, but this time from the opposite direction. The point now is not that man senses that he is an image and strives for likeness with God, but that there is an archetypal Image in God himself, thanks to which there can even be a mere created image of him in the first place. By the same logic, the image, the mere man, draws closer to God the more he strives to follow and adhere to the archetypal Image who descends to earth from heaven in order to bring the Father’s will into the lowermost depths of Sheol. The entire gospel directs man to this path. The Ignatian Exercises point those resolved to follow Christ in the same direction, which runs counter to the whole tradition of Platonic or Neoplatonic religiosity and its doctrines of ascent.
The various Greek models of ascent supposed a kind of Vorgriff, a pre-comprehension, of the Absolute. They thus tended essentially toward the relativization of the finite and the transitory (Stoicism and Buddhism are the most radical forms of this relativizing thrust) and, so, to an ultimate solitude. They have no room for anything like an ecstasy for two, let alone for the masses (such “ecstasy” can only be an illusion of self-enhancement, not the real thing). Rather, ecstasy occurs solely in the Plotinian “monos pros monon”.16 But what happens if God now comes to man to enact the archetype of praise, reverence, and service? Is it not this divine descent alone that first gives our fellowmen their true significance? A significance they have, not merely on account of mankind’s inevitable involvement in the orders of politics and society, but as a consequence of the innermost core of religion itself: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren”; “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”; “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (that is, times beyond number)? “Bear one another’s burdens”—because God in Christ has carried my burden and yours in the most real way imaginable. Translating the ancient model of desiderium,17 of the fundamental will to see God, into the relation between man and man helps expose the risk lying at the heart of it—the danger of an egoism that bends everything to its wish: I want to be praised from a reverential distance and served in a fitting manner. It is precisely this hidden egoism that undergoes reversal and conversion when God comes down to serve man. It is really only with this descent that the humanum18 comes to light as it was created to be: praise of, and rejoicing in, the never-to-be-captured otherness of the other (“male and female he created them”); reverence for this otherness precisely at the point where human beings live out their mutual love in the sexual embrace (the other is never a means to an end but is always to be reverenced in an attitude of responsibility); finally, service, which gives a religious consummation to the everyday necessity of mutual service in some sort of profession within society. Christ’s descent into perfect service of the Father achieves its consummation when he becomes food and drink for his fellowmen. That is our model. Origen ventures a bold analogy here: Jesus as a whole, in his perfectly pure service, can become “food indeed” and “drink indeed” for all. “In the second place,…the clean food is Peter, Paul and all the apostles; in the third place, their disciples. Thus, any food is made clean for their neighbor in accordance with…the purity of their understanding.”19 Do we not have here, we are moved to ask, the “point” where human nature is open to the touch of revelation, in that regard for one’s fellowman, contemplation of his dignity, contains joy in the true sense, just as self-forgetful service contains something like blessedness—whereas an antisocial impulse to work one’s way into, even to disappear in, the Absolute somehow goes against nature’s grain? The only proviso is that we should avoid calling this fulfilling joy in the other “eudaimonism” or elevating it to the criterion of any true doctrine of grace.20
4. Two Anthropologies?
There is no way around the question: Are we dealing with two diverse anthropologies here? Are we faced with an inevitable opposition between an ascending anthropology of eros that starts fundamentally with man and privileges his restless heart (which does not rest until it rests in God) and an anthropology of agape that starts with the Bible and privileges God’s Incarnation, while defining man as sheer “adventical” expectation of divine descent? This entire way of framing the issue would be yet another reprise of Nygren’s fatal opposition between eros and agape. That would be ironic, since even Nygren himself later went on to overcome his dichotomy.
We should not overlook the fact that Ignatius’ account of man, which he regarded as the “principle and foundation” of all Christian existence, apparently had precursors already in the Middle Ages. During his theological studies in Paris, Ignatius may have read the following lines from Peter Lombard: “If it is asked to what end the rational creature has been created, we should answer thus: ‘ad laudandum Deum, ad serviendum ei, ad fruendum eo.’”21 On this hypothesis, frui22 would be the same as what Ignatius calls the “salvation of the soul”, its arrival at a safe haven in God. The passage from Lombard is a literal citation from a pseudo-Augustinian writing called De diligendo Deo (PL 40:850), which in turn shows the influence of Hugh of Saint Victor. In his work on the sacraments, De sacramentis (part 2, chap. I; PL 76:205 f.), Hugh lays out the same question at length, and his answer is not without an analogy to the Ignatian “Principle and Foundation”. Like Ignatius, Hugh also says that all natural things are created for the sake of man, who is the raison d’être of the whole world, whereas “man is created for the sake of God, that he might serve the One for whose sake he was created.” Man thus stands between God and the world: “He is meant to be served, and he himself is meant to serve.” Hugh thus also anticipates Lombard’s teaching that God does not need man’s service but intends it to be for man’s ultimate benefit, that is, for his blessedness (felicitas).
The account of man’s vocation that Peter Lombard inherits from Hugh of Saint Victor displays, then, something like a synthesis between the biblical and the ancient (including Augustinian) approaches: service ends up being the best thing for man; it turns out to be his beatitude. It is significant, though, that no less a commentator on Lombard than Bonaventure insists on an inequality between the two goals. Bonaventure starts out by saying that God does not create in order to augment his glory but, rather, to reveal and communicate it. The creature’s supreme advantage thus has a double focus: the creature’s glorification of God and, therein, the attainment of its own blessedness. At this point, however, Bonaventure denies that the two goals are on the same level: only a failed creature, turned in on itself, seeks its own good and advantage. Nature made perfect, by contrast, is borne upward by selfless love, and it desires “much more disproportionately” (multo magis improportionabiliter) to glorify God than to obtain its own advantage, as is evident from the example of those who really love (In Sententiis, d. I, p. 2, a. I, q. 2). Thomas’ commentary on the same passage from Lombard’s Sentences is more soberly philosophical than Bonaventure’s. Nevertheless, he, too, speaks of the disproportion by which the divine goal exceeds the creature (improportionabiliter excedens).23 At the same time, he adds that, while every creature desires the good, only man can strive for it with knowledge and love. Consequently, in attaining the Good, “he becomes a partaker, not only of the divine goodness, but also of his own happiness” (In Sententiis, d. I, q. 2, a. 2).
The entire medieval intellectual universe that we have described here goes no farther, then, than the attempt to balance the biblical glorification of God and the ancient conception of blessedness in him. Ignatius offers a contrast with this tradition insofar as he designates “praise, reverence, and service” as the goal of creation. (This also applies to the final sentence of the “Principle and Foundation”, which says that man has to choose, in an attitude of indifference, “lo que más nos conduce para el fin que somos criados”24 and then adds only briefly at the end, almost in passing, that, by so acting, man “saves his soul”, or attains his salvation.) Another thing to bear in mind is that from the outset Ignatius very emphatically insists that attaining such indifference—for him the precondition of pure praise and pure, reverent service—requires the overcoming of one’s own selfish tendencies. Moreover, this effort, which runs like a thread through the whole of the Exercises, is supposed to bring me to the point where I can elect what God has elected for me (no. 135). The aim, then, is to choose “praise, reverence, and service” as the goal of my life out of “generous” love for God (no. 5). By the same token, Ignatius, almost in passing, can combine and pronounce in one breath the two words “amor y alabanza”25 (no. 15), “amar y servir”26 (no. 233), “en todo amar y servir”27 (no. 363). Just as the Psalmist praises and serves God with the Great Commandment, the Shema, resounding in his ears, so, too, the hidden presence of love of God actively pervades the Ignatian Exercises. Love announces its presence, however, by consistently directing every thought and, above all, every action to God and his glory (since every form of prayer and election in the Exercises is in an eminent sense action, as the comparison with physical training in the first preliminary note already makes clear). Love can then finally step into the thematic foreground in the “Contemplation to Attain Love” (nos. 230-37), though still without any mention of the term “beatitude”. Nor is there any need to refer to it explicitly, since man’s entire beatitude is already clearly contained in the Suscipe, the prayer of offering by which he answers God’s superabundant love (no. 234). When a man has put everything of his own into God’s hands, because he is only giving back what he has first received, for what more can he ask? “Give me your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.” Will everyone understand this? Ignatius does not think so. This is why he is willing to give the Exercises only to a few “raras personas”, not to everyone.28
The foregoing is no justification, however, for portraying the Augustinian-Thomistic approach as a mistake. The two methods would conflict only if the anthropological approach were to regard the dynamism of the human spirit as the center of all wisdom. But simple justice requires acknowledging that neither Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, nor Plotinus ever thought that it was. All of them knew that the divine was absolutely superior to man. There is even less reason to accuse Augustine and Thomas of some unconfessed egoism. For Augustine, the love of God (frui)29 is never a means to an end (uti),30 but a free gift of divine grace. For his part, Thomas never entertains the slightest doubt that the ordo, or order, of the world is Christian, that God is its absolute Good, and that man is relative to him.
Even the Logos respects this relativity when he becomes man, for he never absolutizes himself, but—eternally turned toward the Father’s bosom (Jn 1:18)—he wishes to lead men through himself into its repose. By the same logic, we can see the two ways as mutually immanent and reciprocally complementary, provided we understand them in a Christian light.
Nevertheless, there is a subtle but unmistakable shift of emphasis. If the ancient way is thought through to the end with abstract rigor and lived out in a one-sided fashion, it exacts abandonment of the world as the price for the quest for God, who inevitably appears as the One beyond scattered multiplicity. Even in Augustine and the other Fathers, we occasionally hear clear echoes of this idea. The biblical way, for its part, begins with the declaration that the creation is “very good”, and it culminates in the Incarnation of God and the resurrection of man, in his bodily existence, to God. It thus allows God and the world to indwell each other forever “without separation and without confusion”. The images of the Bible’s concluding book are a most eloquent witness to this mutual indwelling.
We can also test this truth by asking ourselves the following question: Granting that man is God’s image, what sort of relation does he have to the divine Archetype? Absent a revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the extrabiblical idea of a natural “similarity” between man and God necessarily occupies center stage. By the same logic, man’s search for a means to overcome his dissimilarity and so attain some identity with God likewise comes to the fore. This approach has another consequence: since God is essentially “one and all” (hen kai pan), the only possible path to complete union with him requires the abolition of nondivine multiplicity and dispersion (distensio was Augustine’s word). Once again, the abundant plenitude of creation, which is willed by God himself, is given short shrift. By contrast, when the image in man can be aligned with the Father’s eternal Word, who himself “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:3), then the existential realization of the image must originally reflect God’s concern for the world. This shift of focus is in no sense a pretext for a secularizing consumption (uti) of the world. All things are God’s creatures, his good gifts to us, but they do not therefore cease to be the dwelling place where he “labors” for our sake. Nor are they any less revelations of God’s descent to us, “just as the rays come down from the sun, or like rains from their source” (Spiritual Exercises, nos. 235-37).
All quotations from the Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola are taken from: Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, ed. George E. Ganss, S.J., Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1991).↩
See R. Arnou, Le désir de Dieu dans la philosophie de Plotin, 2nd ed., rev. and ed. (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1967). Arnou’s masterful study brings out the full seriousness and energy of Plotinus’ religious philosophy of yearning for the Good or One. For Plotinus, philosophy is the same thing as love of God. The only problem is that, like Epictetus, Plotinus fails to appreciate man’s powerlessness (57). Every being that is not “God” is, by its very essence, yearning (57-109), although, as Arnou shows, the urge toward fulfillment is by no means mere selfishness but is a search for the Good whose plenitude, as such, simply transcends it (83-84). Significantly, not even spirit—Nous—is an exception to this truth. Since spirit never achieves the full unity of subject and object, it is itself eternal movement, movement that is at one and the same time satisfaction and yearning. “Ephesis gar opseos horasis”: Vision is itself yearning for vision. This is because the capacity for vision can never be completely filled (108). In the book’s concluding chapter (260 ff.), Arnou asks the important question about the locus of the ultimate criterion of truth in Plotinus: Is it metaphysics, or is it mystical experience (union with God)? Now, Plotinus seems to see the two things as one. Of course, Arnou forthrightly acknowledges Plotinus’ awareness of the limits under which the ascent must operate: the many can never become the One, but since the many originate from the One and for the same reason are directed to it: arche = telos (beginning = end) (87), they can only touch it. Nevertheless, Arnou locates the ultimate incoherence of Plotinus’ thinking elsewhere: in the impossibility of the synthesis Plotinus endeavors to achieve between Plato (the static idea) and Aristotle (the dynamic form): “Le dynamisme du désir est contredit par l’innéisme de l’objet” (the dynamism of desire is contradicted by the innatism of the object) (286). Nevertheless, Plotinus was to have an enormous influence on Christian thought (Augustine, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa). Centuries later, we still find a Ruysbroeck expressing the nature of beatitude in the same paradoxical terms: “always hungering and always satisfied” (289).↩
Each man is drawn by his own pleasure.—Trans.↩
New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 1982.↩
The first and second parts of the second part.—Trans.↩
The third part.—Trans.↩
The emanation of the whole of being from God.—Trans.↩
The foregoing citations are from K. Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie, XIII (1978), 233-35.↩
Prior or anticipatory grasp.—Trans.↩
On this point, see J. Auer, Die Entwicklung der Gnadenlehre in der Hochscholastik, vol. 1 (Herder, 1942), 39-46.↩
The only passage that refers back to it is the late reminiscence in Sirach 17:3.↩
C. Westermann, Das Loben Gottes in den Psalmen, 4th ed. (Göttingen, 1968).↩
Alone with the Alone.—Trans.↩
Hom. in Lev. 7, 5, trans. Gary Wayne Barkley in Origen: Homilies on Leviticus 1-16, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1990), 146.↩
L. Weimer, Die Lust an Gott und seiner Sache (Herder, 1981), 356-58. Here Weimer reminds the reader that “Christians and pagans have the same concept of felicitas [happiness]” that Augustine develops his doctrine of grace on the basis of Cicero and that Thomas “emphasizes the social nature of man in all of his principal works: ‘homo diligit civem suum dilectione politica virtutis’ (man loves his fellow citizen by a political love of virtue), indeed, ‘dilectione naturali’ (by a natural love).” The question, however, is to what extent the idea of serving the dignity of one’s neighbor is explicitly developed in the pagan world.
Augustine offers an interpretation of Old Testament piety that differs sharply from the one offered here. He sees Israel as a “fleshly people” that sought after a “beatitudo falsa carnalis” (a false fleshly blessedness)—which, however, could also prefigure (and so model) the true blessedness of the New Testament: De Civ. Dei 17, 7, 4.↩
To praise God, to serve him, to enjoy him.—Trans.↩
To enjoy; the infinitive form of the gerund fruendum.—Trans.↩
Exceeding beyond all proportion.—Trans.↩
What leads us more to the end for which we are created.—Trans.↩
Love and praise.—Trans.↩
To love and to serve.—Trans.↩
To love and serve in everything.—Trans.↩
Hans Urs von Balthasar
Zwei Wege zu Gott
Editorial:Saint John Publications
Man Is Created. Explorations in Theology V. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014 (Reprinted with the kind permission of Ignatius Press)
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