Jesus Text of God (Literary Symbol/Sacrament/Liberation Theology)
I have just finished watching Song of Bernadette and am perplexed why I liked the film while not believing in the healing powers of the water. Maybe I do. But, I think the water is more a “text” than an “idol” or magic potion. I also have trouble with “God freed me from my sins.” Hans Küng reminds us that Nietzsche said we do not look redeemed (44). Richard McBrien, in his study on Catholicism, says that there is more a focus on the Resurrection than the Passion of Christ among current theologians (492). Still, how we interpret the suffering of Christ can tell us a lot on how we view God and human existence. This paper will study the Christology of suffering as it appears in the Liberation Theology movement. We will look at the concept of interpretation and symbol, and how it ties in with the Liberation Christology of Jon Sobrino. Distinctions will be made between religious dynamic symbols and idols. The paper will conclude with William Bausch’s idea of sacrament in the Eucharist. We will look for positive signs in Christ’s suffering which will help us be free of the idols that keep us from sacramental experiences.
Interpreting the Intertexts and Making a Profit from Misreading
Reflexivity in Interpreting the “word of God”
This reflexive relation between observers and events can be used to see the role of interpretation in Sandra Shneiders’ The Revelatory Text. She says that the text of the scriptures is where we encounter the divine and are transformed (xix). She emphasizes the role of interpretation. Without the reader in front of the text, the text stays at the level of information. Transformation (transcendence) occurs when readers confront texts and appropriate them for performance strategies in their own lives (16). Through reader interpretation metaphors like “word of God” and “reign of God” become symbols or “root metaphors” that generate meaning.[i] We as a community of readers interpret the “reign of God” and make it come alive in our lives and community in Christ-like acts. The “word of God” in the scriptures becomes the “Word of God” or the revealed God. The “textual” Jesus is present in words, sight and community action (149). These symbols tease the mind into new realms of thought (139).
If we look at the Scriptures as a
literal book [like Mohler’s outer structure of
church] it can take a magic aspect or an “art object”(Schneiders
43). The Bible here is an idol and not inducing a real living interpretation.
George Soros interprets the discrepancy between the observers and the market to see where the reality gap is located. Schneiders explores the gap between Holy Scriptures and Human Interpretation to get closer to Divine presence. We try to rule out as much irreality as possible in interpreting the historical Christ and the interpreted Christ to get a clearer picture of the proclaimed Christ. The one we think is God. When we discover our misreadings we move closer to God.
The Symbol of God Extends to Faith and Tradition
Roger Haight in Jesus Symbol of God expands Schneiders concept of symbol to study all aspects of Christology in matters of Faith, Revelation and Scriptures (6-8). The nature of symbolic language, the communicating of something unknown through that which is known, is the nature of how we connect our faith and beliefs in the above areas (7). How God is present in Jesus depends on how the symbols work in their time and culture (15-16). Interpreting symbols in different time periods involves an interdisciplinary community of sociologists, historians, psychologists, artists, scientists etc. We are drawn not to objective facts about God, but into how a community encounters transcendent reality (11). There are many faith communities involved: the communities studied, and those that are doing the studying.
We are in George Soros country because we are in a gap. We are dealing with transcendent reality through symbols and are always removed from the real world. Yet we are dealing with real participants and their witnessing of the transcendent. We are drawn into a deeper mystery in the reflexive encounter with the Divine Christ and the one who is experienced by the interpreting community.
Jesus Christ is the primary symbol of God through which we interpret all other symbols. Haight’s signs can be simple symbols and point to a one to one meaning like red light means stop. Signs become religious symbols when they point to deep human experiences that would otherwise be unknown. Haight cites from Marcia Eliade’s Sacred and Profane (197). Haight also distinguishes concrete and conceptual symbols. The concrete is a being, an entity or an event that contains the essence of the creator in it. The Torah for example is more than just laws to follow. It is a sign of God’s covenant and presence with the people. Jesus is the concrete symbol of God because people have encountered God in him and still do. Conceptual symbols are words, stories, parables, and metaphors that accompany and enhance the concrete symbols. The religious language of the parables, for example, always reveal something greater than itself (198).
Religious symbols are dynamic and are not idols by which we can magically see God. They demand participation and involvement in the world. The mind has to be at work to make connections. The mind makes the sign a symbol and it points to transcendent meanings (Haight 198-200). For example, I can see the workers in the vineyard who complain about getting paid the same as the late arrivers in connection the older brother who complains about the prodigal’s reception. They don’t realize we are all late arrivers and in need of our father’s forgiveness. Religious symbols reveal the essence of human existence. We enter into our primordial character of existence. Symbols are always multivalent and dialectic. Haight cites Eliade again. The symbol has to contain both its profane meaning and its religious one. Otherwise the transcendent would not be tied to the world. No symbol is religious that is not profane. Haight and Eliade start “from below.” It is essential to know the literal meaning of the event before jumping to the divine (203). All the christologies that Haight systematically explores are based on his concepts of symbol. Our interpretation of Jesus is the basis of our Christianity. How is He the savior?
Haight, using Eliade, insists on the dynamic nature of symbol. The metaphor is restricted, but the symbol, which I call the drama of the metaphor, is alive. The symbol then is textual, or intertextual, and subject to different and deeper interpretations as more time and more cultures come to the Christ symbol. This is not “idol” interpretation. I will now turn to the cross and Christ’s suffering as a symbol, first through a Liberation Christology view, and then through a more sacramental view of Hans Küng and William Bausch.
The Cross as Symbol of Suffering and Liberation from Oppression/Sin
It is in the mystery of suffering where, according to Pascal, we see Christ’s most enduring presence (O’Collins 315). Latin American authors like Gabriel Marques and Enrique Dussell use Magic Realism and Liberation Philosophy to educate the exploited peoples from capitalistic expansion. They veer away from Greek philosophy and the ontological arguments of Christ’s two natures. Dussell is a liberation philosopher who calls Descartes and Kant “bad guys” who use rationalism as an ideology to conquer and exploit the whole world. He warns his people to not be taken in by a logocentric and eurocentric philosophy that encourages industrialization and world dominance (9-33).
The Liberation Theology movement is
lead by Gustavo Gutiérrez who at Vatican II called a
Latin American circle to “do” and “walk” a theology rather than just talk it (
develops a Liberation Christology which focuses on the cross of Christ as a
major symbol of
Sin is an “idol” with regards to the law. We think that in obeying the law we really are avoiding “sin.” But the real sin is in the nature of omission. We sin by not staying in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed (246). The cross is the sign of God’s love, but God approved of all of Jesus’s life of charitable work (229). The cross is not a payback for us, but a sign that we must join the suffering ones in solidarity and give them faces of Christ so that the world will recognize them. Sobrino interprets the Suffering Servant in the same way. The death of Jesus is not a payback, but something that is supported without explaining it (254-60).
Where is the Resurrection?
We need a “resurrection,” or some kind of positive end of this innocent suffering.
O’Collins laments Anselm’s Medieval version of Satisfaction – that human kind needed an infinite reparation for the infinite wrong committed by Adam. He says Acquinas is on the right track by saying that we are the ones who are bettered by washing our sin, but that Acquinas is still too much “from above.” Redemption is still a divine rescue (O’Collins 205-7).
God is a weaker God who cries out for help. Henri Nouwen,
in his journal from
Pray to him for succour, for his peace, for bread,
For mercy for them sick, sinning or dead;
All men do so, Christians and unbelieving.
Men go to God when he is sore bestead,
Whelmed under the weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead;
Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving. (Sobrino 250-1)
Sobrino sees two interpretations. The first is cruel and sees the first stanza as an expression of human “hybris.” They only pray to God when they are in need or if they want power. The crucifiers want power and pray to God. The second stanza is more Christian. It clarifies the interests that could be misunderstood in the first stanza. The second stanza asserts the reality that God is present in the Passion. “Whether finding God in this way is a questioning or a consolation, alienation or encouragement to commitment, curse or blessing, depends in the last resort on who comes to the cross” (250-1). Those who create poverty ignore the second stanza or find it nonsense, or a total challenge. They can do the first stanza. The poor, out of necessity, accept the first stanza and many of them can see the second stanza and see their God on a cross who and which is theirs. In this solidarity they achieve an ironic hope and encouragement. This solidarity with the poor is something we must see. It is not a call for us rich and powerful to condescend and “help” the poor. It is for us to become in solidarity with these sufferers. Sobrino cites Ignacia Ellacura, who like Bishop Romero, sees his people as a “crucified people” (254-6). They are the real suffering servants. The sin of the world is when we prevent their faces from being seen and their voices from being heard. Sin is death and what brings death. These people bear the sin. This is a real meaning of the symbol of the suffering of Christ.
This meaning is scandalous. We humans allow these crimes to kill our brothers and sisters. The cross then is a sign of Christ’s suffering, but it is also actively and visually seen in the world today. Christ and the poor as suffering servants put a face on evil. We see it Luke’s gospel (Sobrino 259-60). Sobrino says earlier that this is a paradoxal situation. We need to find a payoff or “resurrection” for suffering. We need to reason out this scandalous death of innocent victims, yet we also would be doing evil ourselves if we try to eliminate the scandal (234). That would be the idolatry part of religion. Thinking there are quick fixes eliminates the human side of life. This is similar to bad faith, the sin that existentialists commit when they consider themselves as objects. It is similar to reification, the sin of postmoderns, when they reduce all reality to its visual appearance for the goal of consuming it without experiencing it (Jameson 9-33). We want to avoid reifying our concepts of the sacraments. William Bauch helps us with this concept and places the passion in perspective of the Eucharist.
Symbol and Sacrament
Bausch’s view of sacrament is in line with the non “idol” approach of Haight and Sobrino. A sacrament takes place when we the faithful take our religious signs and make them active symbols. Sacraments are not simple injections of God’s grace to get us to heaven. The “idol” approach has to be countered with a more “process” approach to living a fuller human/divine life. Unlike Sobrino, who focuses on the cross, Bausch focuses on the Eucharist in the drama of the Passion. He says that the early Eucharistic celebrations were in memory of the Jewish Passover celebrations and Christ’s Last Supper. The Eucharist rite is a prayer where we remember Christ’s presence with us at the table, his deliverance of us from slavery, and his desire that we eat together and share food (14-16). This sacrament does not GIVE grace, but brings about the “special activity” of grace by the very act of celebrating it. [like Mohler’s idea of Church]. He says that this rite went from meal - to the idea of sacrifice - to silence. Due to the heresy arguments of Christ’s divinity, the Eucharist started to be revered as something more than human. The medieval concept of Christ saving us with his death gave the Eucharist a sacrificial tone. The priest left the table and came to our side with all of us facing the altar. Christ became too divine to sit with us and we started to look at the Eucharist host as an object that would bring redemption (chs. 8,9, especially p. 149). We are now trying to return to that original notion of meal and sharing. It’s Christ’s whole life of sharing that we celebrate at the Eucharist, not just the passion. Here, Sobrino’s Christogy is right in line (229). God is pleased with Jesus’s total life. For Bausch we need the ritual to learn gradually about God and the mystery of his presence. It’s not a one shot of grace, but a faithful showing up at the table to see what has to be done to continue in our teacher’s presence (28).
For Hans Küng, the Crucifixion is the permanent signature of the living Christ (McBrien 501). But, Küng insists, like Bausch, that we should not look on Christ as dying for our sins in a legal sense. God is not a cruel God who demands satisfaction in a punitive way. The Mass is not a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice, but a commemoration in thanksgiving of God sitting with us. It is a love feast community celebration, and a meal of messianic hope calling us to action (427-8). The suffering of Christ is a sign that we too must suffer. God’s love does not protect us from suffering. It protects us in suffering (435-6). We are not far from Sobrino’s role of suffering. We see how humble and weak we all are and are thus joined with Christ in our weaknesses. Our solidarity is hope.
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An Imaginary Christ to an Imaginary of Christ: A
Is God a higher form of life that I need to aspire to? Is this life in me, or outside? Can I get a glimpse of It through Jesus Christ? Do I need the Resurrection (miracles) as a proof of divinity? Avery Dulles discusses the role of positivist science and faith in exploring the Biblical Christ and Revelation. Bruce Vawter (qu.33) uses imaginary in a positive existential sense. In this essay, I will compare positivist historical knowledge with confessional, testimonial knowledge using the French words for knowing “savoir” and “connaitre.” I will outline the “connaitre” argument that Dulles takes and conclude, tying “savoir” and “connaitre” to objective and subjective meanings. The use of “connaitre” type knowledge is essential in establishing a community of faithful readers throughout history who give and interpret portraits of Christ in searching for God.
“savoir” is to know facts, and is denotative, objective knowledge. Anything
with a simple who, what, when, where, how, and why comes after this “I know.”
The “savoir” Dulles cites Jesus as a wonder worker, teacher and reformer in
Dulles starts with a skeptical account of verification with positivist objective history. The theological question of the divinity of Christ is a matter of faith, beyond the scope of historical scholarship (13-14). Dulles argues that what is needed to verify Christ as the Messiah is to study how the early community interpreted the early eyewitness and earwitness accounts. The gospels, in final written form, are not “real” history, but a religious testimony of the early Church (28-30), which Dulles calls “confession” (ch.3). The early Church community was involved personally in acknowledging Jesus Christ as God. It is a “connaitre” knowledge, the way you would know and learn to know a friend (Dulles 35), with all the thought provoking mystery of loving a friend. Personal knowledge and loving come from time and experience, not facts. With Jesus Christ, the community develops a numinous portrait that appeals to its faith and adoration. The early community believed because of the apostles’ faith, seen in the transformation of their faces. The transformation is the major “proof” that the early community needed, not the scientific evidence of a risen body (42-3). This “community” type of belief and knowing is a definition of the Church and tradition. It is personalist testimony and confession, an Existential involvement in the belief that Jesus Christ is God. The belief of the Resurrection and Divinity of God is not based on eyes or ears, but a privileged illuminated view of Christ’s body no longer existing in real space or time (53-5, 69). The community continues in the Catholic tradition of illuminated believers and interpreters of the gospels to our current day.
This privileged view is one that only comes from a “connaitre” subjective knowledge. It is the loving work we put into the “savoir” or objective knowledge. Critics are using the noun “imaginary” now to refer to where we live. We construct our imaginaries from the interpretation of all symbolic experiences (eg. cultural). The complex imaginary of Christ that Dulles constructed is a loving Jesus who rebukes wind and waves, but falls silent before his brute accusers (39). I want to know Him more.
Alienating the Bad Faith in the Problem of God? (John Courtney Murray)
contemplating God will I be better off understanding my own existence? Will studying God help me or alienate me? The
theological sin of the godless men of the Bible and of the postmodern age is
reification, the tendency to reduce all reality to the visual for purposes of
material consumption. The sacred
Biblical world of mystery has turned into the sacred postmodern absurd. The concept of alienation and bad faith in
The godless man of postmodernity came through Acquinas. In opposition to the existential religious approach to God, the philosophic medieval approach of Acquinas took on the ontological aspects of the 4 fold question. His scholastic method of starting from “below” using reason and doubt builds a system of knowledge that also includes faith. Postmodern thinkers use this scientific method to deny God (88-90).
The postmoderns oppose God because they think that the question
of God alienates human beings from choosing their own essences. The bourgeois
ideology of God exploits the working class for promises of a future God. The
postmodern man of the theater paints the anxieties and death all around us
(116-17). In accepting God we are living in bad faith because we are treating
ourselves as objects. Sartre and Camus turn
alienation around. In seeing ourselves as reified objects, beings created in an
image etc., we miss out on the total human experience of choosing our lives. I
missed my vacation because I was taking pictures of it.
Gaining a Profit from the Redemption Process (Johan Mohler)
a matter of knowing God and ourselves. Our salvation/redemption is in terms of
getting to the better part of ourselves. Mohler
focuses on knowing God through the Church. Dulles’s knowledge of God comes from
a connotative portrait of Christ from the NT drawn by the early and continuing
A sacrament is a sign that links us directly to the divine. It has or is the grace to make us divine. Christ is the sacrament to God. Christ’s life is an expression of the divine experience. Symbols are expressions of meaningful experiences. They express what we feel on the inside. Christ’s walking on water is a symbol of His power over death and the evils of the material world. Our bodies are symbols of what we are. The symbolic nature of language and our bodies and history is what connects us to deeper truths. Sandra Schneiders’ The Revelatory Text is about interpreting the New Testament as Christ. Christ is the symbol of God. Christ reveals the divine in himself when we as a reading community appropriate the events and symbols to our lives. The dynamically appropriated text is the real presence of God.
Mohler uses this dynamic appropriation concept as he switches the sacrament/symbol from Christ to God to Church to Christ. Schneiders’ active multi-disciplined readers transformed into disciples of Christ are Mohler’s “Church.” The Church is more a communion of believers than an external institution (2). The essence of the community is Christ’s love. Gilmore and Mohler give us a Biblical parallellist poetic structure of this love that originates in the community. It flows to the episcopate (bishop), who in turn provides the structure to energize more love and communion out to the faithful (3). In Symbolism, Mohler ties the Eucharistic real presence of Christ to the real presence of Christ as the Church. In the Eucharist ceremony Christ eternally offers himself to the Father. The Eucharist sacrifice is the external action or symbol. The believers participating in the ceremony not only remember Christ’s redemptory act, but participate in it through the sharing of prayers and bread. Christ is scandalously present. (6) - an immanent intimate God in us without blasphemy! The Eucharistic celebration is the “sensible form” of the Son of God - the objective redemption. To advance to a subjective redemption we have to participate and form a communion of loving people doing loving things to each other. This would be an actualization of the real body of Christ. Realization as conscious knowledge must come first. We have to appropriate the Word of God to our lives. We also realize in the sense of profit. The understanding of the metaphor of the Body of Christ and the Reign of God expands our knowledge and helps us see that we have to stop the selfish individualistic side of ourselves from destroying our eternal “love” side. François Cheng, a French thinker, says that we must levee up against the increasing tide of individualism, and form exchanges to grow. We as Church actualize Christ’s redemption by shoring up against the forces of greed and individualism, by forming a community. We realize a profit in a different kind of real estate - a real state of Christ. We actually walk over the waters of monstrous greed and egoism. We don’t sink into anonymity. We rise in it. As the Church we are Christ.
The Beads of Sweat Strung by Anguish: the God-Person’s Gift (Jos. Donceel)
Can we be the angel who strengthens the Body of Christ as He agonizes over his impending sacrificial death in Gethsemene? Assuming that we, too, are the Body of Christ, and Christ is the Saving God, we can assume an active position, along with a passive one. Christ can save us, and we can assume our Christ body’s strength to save ourselves? Understanding the Trinity will help us see our role. I will discuss how Donceel, with his circle imagery, advances to a panentheistic view of God with help from Hegel and Kung whose Faith view of Hegel will help us read the symbol of Christ’s sweat as He decides to sacrifice Himself. Christ’s sweat will become our sweat.
If we take a Theist look, The Trinitarian relation of Thought (the Father or the Absolute Principle), Objective Form (the Son or the Word objectified by the Father) and Love (the Holy Spirit who is the love that allows the Incarnation to happen) remain closed and separate from the real world it created (Maréchal’s view, p.11). God is transcendent, with Jesus belonging more to the “God” side than the human/universe side. We cannot help the Body of Christ here. In Donceel’s diagram (12) we are the little epicycle on the circumference of the big God cycle. We are a part of the big circle, but not really inside. If we use the Pantheist approach, where God and universe form one circle, we arrive at no real practical application. The universe here is the very genesis of God. The universe here becomes, not an out pouring of God’s love, but a necessary component of what God needs to become himself. A God that needs us sounds illogical. There also seems to be a lack of individual wills which would diminish our role in the saving process of the helping angel. The Panentheist (all in God) circle model works better, showing God’s concern for the world and how we to could have an effect on God (13). We go from God to All God to All in God. We, the universe, form a circle within the bigger God circle, but since we are a part of it, there is opportunity for reciprocal action.
This view coincides better with modern man who sees that his identity is not totally coming from himself, but from a mass of influences outside his own being. Rather than use the “intensity” argument that we the universe are a modification of God, Donceel calls on Hegel’s dialectic (14-15). Our concept of being as one identity does not allow us to see that God can be both “Pure Immutable Act” and “changing potency.” Hegel will take Reason from understanding Being as “Being in what it is” to include “Being in what it is not” (14). We are defined also by what we are not. God is Pure Act, Infinite and Eternal and Immutable, and also potency, in time, and changeable. God possesses the human attributes in the otherness of his manifestation. Deconstruction philosophers, like Derrida, treat themselves as texts, and explore and decenter the origins of their lines of thought. What appears to be the major component becomes the supplement and vice-verse. For example, it is absence that really makes us who we are. What we do to prepare ourselves for our absence may define us better than what we do in the presence of others. Writing is a form of absence which may define us better than our spoken words.
If the Incarnation is to help man grasp what God is (16), it is possible to interpret Hegel as Pantheistic, since God also needs man to manifest Himself. Therefore, Donceel brings Hans Kung’s Faith approach to Hegel’s Reason. We have to have some belief in God’s power of self-giving gracious love. God divests Himself in his Incarnation out of His free grace. Kung says that “it is not because He needs us that He changes. Thinking Christologically, in the Greek sense, it is precisely because He is Pure Act and Perfection that He can undergo such an emptying without losing himself ”(17). This is a DYNAMIC (God here is a non-static relational Identity) perfection that can sink into the depths of otherness (human suffering) and not lose any part of its perfection, which is pure self-giving love and grace.
What is a
more important question in understanding God?
Who Affects Who? Or, how do we become better people? The symbol of the
Trinity can help us see the relationship of the divine and human through
self-giving love. Sometimes the Trinity is too big and mysterious a symbol to
be attacked from the front, unless you have the mind of a Rahner,
Kung, or Donceel.
Let’s look at the drops of sweat in
The sacredness of language was a goal of the symbolist poets of 19th
[ii] Bruce Vawter has taken Küng’s position. He believes that the early Christians saw Christ’s death as a redemptory move with its roots in the OT and Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant (969-71).