Monday, July 21, 2008

Sesboüé claims that ideas have consequences

"The tragedy of this logic of opposition is that it backfires on the affirmation of the glory of God; and in the same stroke, it turns on man as well, as the sequence of history (which obeys a whole set of factors) shows. For Luther, 'God can only be everything, if man is nothing.' But man does not feel like nothing, and later would [therefore] think it necessary to affirm himself against God. Fr. Sesboüé summarizes this process:

'The same line of thought leads Protestantism to exalt the sovereignty of God (i.e. Calvin’s soli Deo gloria). But this affirmation seems to be made at the expense of man, as though the lower man is, the more proportionally greater God is; as though uplifting man constitutes an attempt on divine glory. Is there not a certain dualism here, structured on a principle of rivalry? . . . But we are far-removed from Irenaeus’ beautiful phrase: "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." Hence, understandably, such a unilateral goal was deemed intolerable and historically gave birth to its opposite, i.e. the demand for a human autonomy which would banish God.'"

Charles Morerod, O.P., Ecumenism and philosophy: philosophical questions for a renewal of dialogue, trans. Therese C. Scarpelli (Ann Arbor, MI: Sapientia Press, 2006 [2004]), 114-115. The words "God can only be everything, if man is nothing" are not Luther's, but Chantraine's. These are sweeping remarks that a specialist could probably pick effortlessly to pieces. Still, Sesboüé and Morerod are on to something, it seems to me. Ecumenism and philosophy is far from a great book, but could well still be right. Michael Root concurs, more or less, although he thinks that "the fine grain of particular disputes is lost" (Modern theology 24, no. 3 (July 2008): 507-508). Interesting to me is the fact that the Orthodox theologian Yannaras levels the very same charge against Catholicism: "The endeavor of Gothic architecture is to elicit an emotional response by demonstrating intellectually the antithesis of natural and supernatural, human smallness and the transcendent authority, the power from on high": "'It was nevertheless the art of the Gothic cathedrals which, in the whole of Christendom, then became the instrument--perhaps the most effective one--of Catholic repression': Duby, L'Europe des Cathédrales, p. 72. Direct experience alone can justify and verify these conclusions. In the cathedrals of Cologne, Milan or Ulm, and other European cities, anyone with experience of the theology and art of the Eastern Church can see the ways in which man revolts against this transcendent authority which is expressed with genius in architecture: it is an authority which humiliates and degrades human personhood and even ultimately destroys it. Revolt is inevitable against such a God, who consents to encounter man on a scale of such crushing difference in size" (Christos Yannaras, "The ethos of liturgical art," in The freedom of morality, trans. Elizabeth Briere, Contemporary Greek theologians 3 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 242-243, 243n19). So if Yannaras in defense of the Reformers is preposterous, then perhaps Sesboüé in dismissal of them is, too. Or there is a measure of truth in both (since individual Reformers and Catholics both, though Catholics, weren't speaking ex cathedra). Or only one is right. And from where I sit, that would have to be Sesboüé. For it would be virtually impossible to show, as Yannaras claims, that the Summa theologiae "demonstrat[es] intellectually the antithesis of natural and supernatural"! No, gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit.

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