Friday, September 5, 2008

The Subject, the Church, and The Pope as Existential Indubitable

Time to have some theological and philosophical fun with Henri de Lubac and Jean-Luc Marion.

The receptivity of the Church is a receptivity that reveals. It is in this sense that Henri de Lubac often speaks of her as the antitype of the Word and the Eucharist. She transcends them as the res ultima of which they speak. She is not the head. She is the body who speaks with Christ’s name and with Christ’s authority. Her nature as subject of divine revelation is only as the Gifted One, the subject that for Marion comes after the Transcendental Ego.

One of the fundamental projects of Jean-Luc Marion's Being Given is to relieve the subject of its status as self and to return this status to the phenomena that give. The self of phenomena is a self in a primary sense, while Marion will concede that the self of the receiving subject is a self only of “second rank, by derivation.” Christ is the head of his Church. He is the single transcendent self, pure givenness in the act of Revelation who gives himself from himself. All priority resides on the side of the selfhood of that which gives. The Gifted subject, on the other hand, had no existence of itself or from itself. The Gifted, the Called one, experiences itself always primarily as summoned. The Gifted or the Called is characterized by response and by surprise, or even by seduction. According to the hermeneutical circle within which the Gifted and Called always finds himself, the call is heard only by the receiver. The nature of the call is such that “it arises so originarily that no nearing can in advance outline a horizon of manifestation for it, since, as paradox (saturated phenomenon), it makes an exception to every possible horizon.” The Gifted is the horizon of visibility for the paradox that gives itself.

There is a necessary delay between the saturation of the paradox and the Gifted subject who receives and shows. This delay can never be entirely overcome until the eschaton because of the finitude of the subject who receives. There is never a full equating of the I = I that is the dream of transcendental philosophy. This is so since “its finitude essentially determines the gifted, it cannot by definition adequately receive the given such as it gives itself – namely without limit or reserve” until the eschatological fulfillment of the mystery of the Church. There will always be a certain delay, a distance within the very self of the I between the saturated phenomenon of Revelation that gives and the capacity of the Church to receive. The privileged status of the subject in the nominative is now designated to the dative, the “to me” rather than the nominative “I” that constitutes.

The selfhood of that which gives now has priority over the gifted who receives. Christ remains the true subject of his Revelation. Yet by means of his Revelation, he called into existence a secondary subject, a Gifted, who is the horizon of receptivity of that Revelation. The Church is the Flesh of reception, the “milieu of manifestation” of the pure givenness of Revelation. The Church, as the body of Christ, continues to say “I.” While the Church as the Gifted one is a “me of second rank, by derivation,” deprived of all transcendental status, for Marion the ego and so the Church “keeps, indeed, all the privileges of subjectivity, save the transcendental claim to origin.” She has no origin of herself; she is purely gifted. Yet, she continues to say “I,” and to speak thus in the name of Christ. As a person, she is a derived self, yet a self who mysteriously, like all human beings, can still speak a conscious, reflexive “I,” though only humbly, and relieved of transcendental status.

I propose that the capacity to say “I” is precisely the place of the Pope in the Church. The de-centered subject of Marion’s philosophy necessarily discovers a distance within itself that can never be completely covered. This distance is the bringing to full phenomenality of that which gives, a showing that is not fully possible for a finite, human, subject. Yet such a subject can still say “I.” The paradox of this statement is brought out clearly by Gabriel Marcel, upon whom Marion often implicitly relies. If there is any “touchstone” of existence, he says, a place to which one can go in order to ascertain one’s position on this trail of life, Marcel points to this as the “existential indubitable,” that single aspect that cannot be doubted. This is, he says, “myself, in so far as I feel sure that I exist.” Yet, one must be careful with this affirmation. “If,” cautions Marcel, “we are, as I think we are, in the presence here of a key datum… we should also acknowledge from the first that this datum is not transparent to itself; nothing could bear a smaller likeness to the transcendental ego.” There is no transparency in the ability to say “I.” It is a derived function, a gifted function, received from the Event and the Icon, within the Flesh, the milieu of manifestation, that is myself. Yet the Flesh gives to me an I that can say “I.”

This is the paradox of the role of the Pope. He says an “I” that has no self-substantiated or generated content, yet which paradoxically is the “existential indubitable” of the existence of the Church. Without this I the Church has no concrete existence as the visible body of Christ. And yet this I is empty and itself completely derived. For this reason, the Flesh that gives the I, though unable to say “I” with authority, maintains pre-eminence over the I that speaks itself. The emerging importance of the role of the sensus fidelium within the Church points to this absolute necessity and paradox. The Flesh is the I of the “I am,” yet the Pope alone has the authority to say “I” on behalf of the whole. Yet this I is not transparent and has content only by virtue of the Flesh that is the sensus fidelium. The Pope has the speaking role of the Gifted I, gifted with the authority it receives from its Flesh – the Church, given by the Event – Christ’s passion and resurrection – daily in the Icon – the Eucharist – to speak a de-centered and non-transparent, yet authoritative “I” on behalf of the whole Church. He is the “existential indubitable” of the third body – the Flesh of the Church – as it awaits the final closing of the gap of distance within itself in the eschatological coming of the full Christ.

(I screwed up footnotes, so they don't appear. If you want to know any of the citations, just ask me.)

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

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