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Mary and Substantial Human Reality

John Kelleher

Lest we bury the lede: "Human nature" is the ongoing, historical, eventful unity of the One Flesh in the New Covenant. This, and only this, is human nature -- not "shares in" human being: it is substantial human being per se: free, multi-personal, historical, covenantal, sacramental, ecclesial.

The One Flesh in the One Sacrifice -- nothing less -- is the substantial human nature. Only within the Eucharistic Event do we become consubstantial with the unfallen and now also resurrected humanity of Him and her. Only thus do we become consubstantial with each other. And only by means of the Eucharist, and within it, do we freely take up our personal named responsibility for covenantal existence.

The Eucharist -- not an 'idea' of the Eucharist, but the Eucharist as represented daily in history -- is the sole font and source of our human unity, and simultaneously, of our dignity and individual moral responsibility as named persons. The Eucharist itself -- nothing less -- tells us who we are, and what we are about.

At our baptism, in signo we slough off sarx and are reborn, in the death of the Lord, into a mediated, sacramental, covenantal, Eucharistic, ecclesial, multi-personal, historical substantial human existence. We become fully human beings as we freely choose to worship at the altar of the One Sacrifice as members of His Church. Thus we begin to be who we are, and also to understand who we are, and what we are about. For there is no substantial human nature available to us, apart from our free personal participation in the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice.

We have previously cited CT Vol.I, Ch. II, pp. 216-7; and n. 37, p. 278, to the effect that only a theological nostalgia, and "a school loyalty coupled to a religious obedience, now unavailing," permit us to continue to say that "the 'goodness' of creation is a 'natural' qualification of the real."

For a similar reason, substantial human nature, the substantial unity of men, and the free moral responsibility of individual named persons, are not 'natural' qualifications of the real; hence, covenantal moral theologies, as a matter of theological method, are also unable to look for these in 'nature' -- meaning within fallenness as normative, 'nature' considered 'as if' the Good Creation could even exist, let alone be found, apart from the death of the Lord and the One Flesh of the Eucharistic New Covenant.

And so, however difficult the task then becomes, as a matter of method, covenantal moral theologies are barred from looking for substantial reality in all the old familiar places. All our efforts to understand must begin by standing within the historical, covenantal reality of the sacraments of the Catholic Church themselves, particularly the Eucharist.

For we recognize that the sacraments are not 'examples' of substantial reality, but far rather, they are in themselves the only movements of bodies in this fallen world, within fallen time, which infallibly cause the substantial reality they signify: they 'give' grace, yes; and they do so by causing grace, ex opere operato.

To find our fundamental -- perhaps not our sole, but our fundamental way -- towards better questions regarding substantial reality in the sacraments alone, is a highly challenging task. Yet by comparison to the strains exerted to produce a gnat, our yoke is easy, our burden light.

For example, once set on a slightly better course, we become astonished that no one else seems astonished by efforts to begin with a time-less monad and from it 'deduce' substantial reality, which as divine is trinitarian and historical. One is reminded of the old joke about the drunk who searched for his lost car keys under a streetlamp, where they could not possibly be, because the light was better there.

And indeed, absent the plain facts of the Revelation given in Christ, we would have little reason to suspect that substantial reality as divine is trinitarian and historical. But since it is, then (for example), Aristotle's metaphysics is even worse than his physics.

According to the Philosopher, we learn the differing motion of bodies by examining the nature of each body, given its substantial form. Therefore we would expect that each different body would fall differently, according to its nature. However, this is not the case: both a bowling ball and a biscuit fall at precisely the same rate, and in a vacuum, so does a feather. Eventually, reality impinged on Aristotle's physics, and it was abandoned.

Nonetheless, the Philosopher's physics is refuted less decisively than his metaphysics, for there is some wriggle room in his physics. While we would not expect a biscuit to fall as fast as a bowling ball, it is still possible that it might. By contrast, it is flat impossible to systematically, rather than merely nominally, associate Jesus with the Agent Intellect, with the Prime Mover, with the Thomistic Deus Unus; and efforts to ignore and paper over this impossibility can only be explained by the desire to save that which is assumed to be prior to all and therefore that which must be saved at all costs: the premise that it is impossible for substantial reality to be any other than time-less and monadic.

Perhaps more stubborn even than this is our intuition that there just has to be something 'before', 'beyond', the Revelation given in -- the Revelation Who is -- Jesus the Lord. For to ask, for example, Why three Persons in God and not three hundred, or three thousand, is already to leave Him behind, in favor of some prior algorithm or recipe or essence or Perfection more Lordly than He. And this impulse seems inveterate in us; we continue to be besieged by it, even if someone should rise from the dead.

The issue is important, one might even call it fundamental, to asking better questions within covenantal moral theologies. We seem almost unable to imagine a free responsibility; we assume that the sole alternative to predictable order, is chaos; we conclude that the sole alternative to action governed by Law imposed whether we like it or not, is irresponsibility; we imagine that the sole alternative to being ruled by Necessity, is caprice.

God Himself, we (used to) teach our children, makes Himself bound by the laws He establishes, lest God Himself become arbitrary -- a formulation we have heard so often, it has nearly lost its ability to amaze us. For when our only two categories are the order of rational necessity, or irresponsibility, it becomes impossible to distinguish irresponsibility from the free responsibility of Our Lord's obedience unto death, death on a Cross. We imagine that unless God binds Himself to Necessity, even God therefore becomes irresponsible.

All that then remains is a caricature of the Lord Jesus, Who becomes the Most Perfect Example of compliance with The Eternal Rulebook In The Sky, which is 'naturally', 'logically', prior even to Him. For how could we trust God, how could we believe that He is faithful, how could He not but terrify us, unless we satisfy ourselves that He has made unbreakable iron Things that He agrees to pretend eternally are greater and more sure than Himself?

Therefore, a meta-task of all covenantal moral theologians will always be to remind ourselves that there is no god 'beyond' or 'behind' God. He is not a puppet on a string, nor does He make Himself 'responsible' by agreeing to become a puppet on strings of His own devising.

We are used to the idea that there is no 'reason' or 'explanation', no term or idea, no condition or concept, no recipe or algorithm, 'beyond' or 'behind' God, that causes Him to be. Now we must also overcome our fear and recognize that there is also nothing that causes Him -- that requires Him -- to be Love.

Although there will always be something more to understand about Him and His Good Creation, there is no 'reason' for God, in the sense of something prior to Him or more godly than He, that causes and thus determines His being -- or that causes and thus determines His free responsibility, His love. In other words, we have no weapon, no 'edge', no gimmick, no Law, no higher court, no police force, no power at all, by which we can force God to love us or His Good Creation.

He is His own guarantee. For God is gift, He is Love. Thus in and through Love we are created free, but also, there is an essential indigence about us and about all of the Good Creation: we lack control over the Most High.

This was the indigence that the devil told Eve, and through her, Adam, that she should disdain; and since Adam and Eve were created good -- free -- and thus moral of their essence, they had the freedom to consider themselves slaves. Since they were created within a Great Good Gift, they therefore had the freedom to consider God as something to be grasped at, someone with whom the relationship ought to be one of power, not one of a free covenant within which he who is mighty can do great things for you.

And immediately we find power, not covenant, between Adam and Eve, as well: for in the very act of defining her relationship to God as one of power, of defining Gift as slavery, Eve usurped and thus refused Adam's Headship of her, refused to be his Glory, just as Adam refused his Headship of Eve, through his acquiescence in it all. And they got everything they wanted, good and hard.

Covenantal moral theologies cannot search for substantial reality as divine in the old familiar places. Nor can covenantal moral theologies search for substantial nature as human down well-trod paths. However, we can find the source and font of substantial human being, of all human unity, and of all free and thus moral responsibility, by a closer look at the new Eve with the second Adam, by a closer look at Mary with her Son.

Covenantal Theology points out that the theological assumption that the pre-existent Jesus the Lord is the eternal Son, sensu negante, and therefore at the Incarnation He "assumed a human nature" (a) is an assumption merely (b) is unwarranted and (c) amounts to condemned heresy:

... contemporary theology rejects out of hand the primordial pre-existence, i.e., "in the beginning," of the human Son, the divine Word who is Jesus the Lord, but rather takes for granted the pre-existence of a supposedly Trinity-immanent divine Son, whose existence can only be ab aeterno, who is nonhistorical by definition, and of whom in consequence the Church's historical tradition and worship knows and can know nothing.

The standard theological and exegetical reading of Jn. 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word," supposes "the Beginning" to refer to the "immanent Word," whose eternal nonhistoricity clearly bars that reading, long since condemned as Arian by the Council of Nicaea. Paul explicitly identifies Jesus as "the Beginning" in Col. 1:18, as does John in Jn. 1:1, and again in the Apocalypse where, summarily, Jesus is Named "the Beginning and the End." The subject of I Jn., identified in the first verse as "That which was from the beginning" is identically the primordial Jesus the Lord who is identified in the first verse of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." There is no scriptural warrant for the dissociation of these texts. The Gospel of John knows only the one Son, Jesus the Christ, the Word who was made flesh (καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγενέτο) by his obedience to his Mission from the Father into our fallen history. Only a willful ignorance can read Jn. 1:14 as "the Word became man, or "the Word assumed flesh," or "the Word assumed a human nature." [CT, Vol III]

Such erroneous ideas are so inveterate within theology that it is now simply assumed that John the evangelist cannot have written what he actually wrote; or to put it more plainly, that John the evangelist is in need of extensive editing, for the Jesus he professed is both a divine Person and a human person; which is taken to be heresy, rather than simply the reality that John professes and conveys.

It is in point, then. to wonder about Mary. It is far too late to venture that she is mother merely of His 'humanity', whatever that might mean: that was refused long ago in her title Mater Dei, Theotokos. And she has been called the new Eve since the second century, nearly as long as her Son has been professed the second Adam.

We also have to do with man who is created in the image, not of a monadic Deus Unus, but in the image of the Most Holy Trinity, and that imaging is man's free covenantal nuptiality in 'one flesh': "male and female he created them."

Moreover, it is a profound theological error to suppose that "each actual entity must be a substance," on the warrant that "no other notion of substantial unity is conceivable." To the contrary, "the Council of Chalcedon ... understands human substance, like the divine Trinitarian substance, to be multi-personal...." [CT Vol IV endnote 442]

Substantial human being is free, multi-personal, historical, covenantal, mediated, sacramental, and ecclesial. As a matter of method, covenantal moral theologies are unable to look for substantial human nature either in the (erroneous) idea that each actual entity must be a substance, or in the (erroneous) idea that all human persons are accidents of a time-less monadic substance.

But the reason both of these formulations fail, and can be seen to fail, is that their basis depends too much on assumption, conjecture, logic, a pre-built system, the 'obvious', the 'self-evident', and too little on the sweet hard facts of what has been handed on. This is nothing new, and nothing to be ashamed of: all our theological questions are like this, and we can but hope that we are able to formulate better questions down the road.

Yet drastically theological questions immediately arise when we wonder about the Jesus Who is a human person "in the beginning," Who was present at the Fall, and through Whom all things were made.

Chalcedon professes that He is consubstantial with us. But this cannot mean that He shares our wholly negative fallen 'solidarity' in the first Adam. Though He has taken up and borne the responsibility of our fallenness on His shoulders (He "became sin" in that sense), He is like us in all ways but sin. He never personally sins, nor does the original sin of the first Adam and the first Eve affect His integral humanity: this is doctrine.

Here we argue that all this fits together much better and makes much better sense if we go one step further than Covenantal Theology does explicitly: if we posit that the perfect and integral humanity of the second Adam, Jesus, is not only primordial, but is also metaphysically prior to the humanity of the first Adam and the first Eve. Which is to say: they had their humanity from Him, not the reverse. Thus His humanity is integral, untouched by the Fall of the first Adam and the first Eve, because our Lord's humanity is metaphysically prior to their creation and hence, to the Fall.

Thus also, He is consubstantial with us because our consubstantiality is in Him. It is not the case that, per impossibile, He has His (substantial, integral) humanity from us, but instead, we may be freely gifted our substantial, integral humanity as we are reborn into His death and become members of His Church.

We also point out that Jesus returned to His Father and now dwells with the Father in a heaven that obviously has plenty of room for Jesus's distinctly material, human resurrected body, a body which is so historical, so un-ideal, so non-abstract, as to continue to bear the marks of His passion; and we innocently wonder why the same heaven might not have had a place for Jesus's primordial pre-existent human body, as well.

All this is to say no more than that the Lord of History is historical. But if the Word is Jesus, integrally God and Man "in the beginning," it is evident that our previous assumptions about human nature, and of humanity, a) have been assumptions merely and b) have been exceedingly inaccurate, with broad-ranging consequences for our understanding of the Paschal Mystery.

These facts become vitally important to the theological quarens regarding Mary, the new Eve. For if the first Adam was given his humanity in the new Adam, so that the first Adam became covenantally consubstantial with the humanity of Jesus (and not the other way round), then it becomes possible to deal more precisely and accurately with the uniqueness of Mary in salvation history.

Substantial reality as divine is Trinitarian, free, and multi-Personal; as human, it is covenantal, free, mediated, multi-personal, and ecclesial: sacramental and historical, not monadic, direct, atomistic, lonely, organic, mechanistic -- or imposed.

Our substantial reality as human is something that we freely take up. In this vale of tears, of course, as we freely take up our substantial human being sacramentally and ecclesially -- hence as mediated, multi-personal, and presently "veiled" -- within fallen time, we also take up the responsibilities of covenantal existence within fallen time, as He takes up His Cross.

To say it again: our true human nature is not 'generative', but free. It is not imposed, it is not laid on us whether we like it or not -- this is indeed true of our fallen nature, but not at all of our substantial reality as human. Which is to say, we find our common substantial humanity in no other way but freely, in and through the One Sacrifice, which is the cause of the One Flesh of the second Adam and the new Eve: the New Covenant.

At the Incarnation, Jesus took on the "form of a slave," by taking on the responsibility of our fallenness, by entering into sarx, the flesh that is imprisoned in death. He "became Man" only in the Pauline sense that he "became sin." We kneel or bow at the Creed, not because He became who He already was, God and Man "in the beginning," but because He inclined towards us and heard our cry [Ps 40], and took upon His shoulders the responsibility of our fallenness.

But Mary is not merely the mother of the Lord "in the flesh." She is Mater Dei. It is evident that only by forswearing the cosmological imagination entirely, and by positing that substantial reality is covenantal and historical rather than monadic and time-less, that we can make any sense of this.

For Mary is fully and only a creature, yet she is the virgin Mother of God precisely because Her Son Jesus is "one and the same" Lord, God and Man, as Chalcedon seven times attests. (Our root difficulty with Mary's title Mater Dei is really just our difficulty with Him).

And Mary is "full of grace;" her humanity, unlike ours, is integral, spared from original sin: this is doctrine. What we propose here is that the reason Mary was spared the effects of the Fall is that Mary's humanity is primordial and unfallen. That is, Mary's existence, and her integral humanity, is created "in the beginning."

Covenantal Theology does in fact assume the primordial existence of Mary, the new Eve, though Fr. Keefe does not develop this idea. However, in a published article, Fr. Keefe does write that "the second Eve is taken from the side of the "sleeping" second Adam, a patristic theme." This theme he says is "reiterated by the Second Vatican Council and most recently by the Catechism of the Catholic Church," citing Sacrosanctum Concilium 5; and CCC 1068.

The basis of this free social order is the covenantal distinction-in-unity between Christ and his bridal Church, the New Covenant instituted by the One Sacrifice, whereby the second Eve is taken from the side of the "sleeping" second Adam, a patristic theme reiterated by the Second Vatican Council and most recently by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Only here, in the union of the "obedience unto death" (Phil 2:8) of the eternal Son and the integral and correlative obedience of his immaculate mother, is there realized in history the Glory of the Father in the outpouring of His Spirit through the Sacrifice of his Son, under the veil of the sacramental signs of the Church's Eucharistic worship.

[ ""In Persona Christi:"Authority in the Church and the Maleness of the Priesthood," Faith 34/5, Sept./Oct. 2002. ]

However, neither Sacrosanctum Concilium nor the Catechism say anything directly about Mary, the second Eve, being taken from the side of the "sleeping" second Adam, the crucified Jesus, neither in the passages Fr. Keefe cites, nor in any other place; so the "reiteration" of this patristic theme in those documents could only be termed oblique, obscure, at best.

A certain additional respectful theological speculation on that patristic theme here, however, can account more fully not only for Mary's Immaculate Conception but also for her Assumption, and for her primordial existence in the death of the Lord. Which is to say, the speculation here may account for these, understand them more fully, not by standing 'outside' what is professed, nor by positing philosophical a prioris that at best are always only one step away from giving 'reasons' for God, but by standing more fully within the truth of what is professed.

The reason (we propose) that Mary, the second Eve, has -- alone among created men -- been spared from original sin, is that she "is taken from the side of the 'sleeping' second Adam," from Whose side blood and water flowed. And because the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice unites the primordial, the historical, and the eschatological, the second Eve's existence is also primordial; for after all, she is the Theotokos, Mater Dei.

Thus in the very same primordial moment of the refusal of the covenant by the first Adam and the first Eve, Mary was fashioned from the rib of the second Adam, Jesus.

In the New Covenant, the Son is Mary's Head, and she, as created in Him, proceeds from Him as His glory. But it is also true that there is no substantial human unity, or even substantial human reality, apart from the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice.

Nor can this mystery that is primordial, taking place at the beginning of time; and historical, taking place at the Last Supper, on the Cross, and at every offered Eucharist until the end of time; and eschatological, in its fulfillment, legitimately be separated into 'elements'; the created human substance is an Event, caused by, but also a constitutional aspect of, the New Covenant. She is truly His Mother, even as she proceeds from Him as His glory, even as she is His Bride and He the Bridegroom: all must be professed simultaneously.

We may then propose that Mary, the new Eve, was spared that defect, the wound, of original sin, because she had her real, true, integral human nature "in the beginning," directly within the primordial humanity that she shares in her covenant with the Second Adam, and not from the first Adam and the first Eve. Which is to say, the first Adam and the first Eve had their full, integral human nature from Him and her, who are after them and yet came before them.

This also explains why Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, for her human being, alone among created men, is untouched by the Fall. Her human being is "in the beginning" free, pure, gratia plena -- capable of consequential worship. As her Yes to the angel Gabriel could thus be free, integral, pure, and consequential worship, so also her life entire.

And therefore, the feast of the Immaculate Conception is all the more a very significant part of the sacramental economy, for on that day we also celebrate the 'emptying' of Mary's primordial, pre-existent integral human being into sarx ("flesh," fallen human being). For her Immaculate Conception just is the 'emptying' of her fully integral primordial human being into sarx: she is not only the bride of the Lord of history, but also His mother.

Mary's fundamental indigence in relation to her Lord, is no bar to any of this; far rather, that it does not bar any of this, is a monumental hint about the nature of covenantal relation.

We might go so far as to say that Covenantal Theology is not well-grasped apart from the understanding that covenantal relation, in general, has this fully historical, free character; on our side, there is a free and yet fundamental indigence -- an indigence that we therefore may freely refuse, just as the first Adam and the first Eve did; and just as the new Adam and the new Eve freely accepted.

As the Fathers and so many others since them have noted, the Fall is the antithesis of the New Covenant. Unlike the first Eve, the new Eve did not refuse the responsibilities of covenantal, nuptial, existence; nor did the second Adam refuse His Headship to the new Eve, nor did the new Eve refuse to be His Glory.

Unlike all other created men, Mary's physical body is eschatological now, resurrected now. She now exists body and soul, with her Lord, in the Event of the New Covenant itself. "In the beginning" she belongs to the New Covenant, she is united with Him in His death; and thus she even now lives, body and soul, in the place He has prepared.

We also note that Mary and her Lord do not 'share' a 'humanity' that existed prior to their covenant. That way of thinking simply returns us to the self-generated conundrums of the past. We say it again: substantial human nature is both an effect of the New Covenant, and is constitutional of the New Covenant.

There is no 'human nature' 'beyond' or 'before' the Eucharistic Event. The source and font of substantial human nature is the One Flesh of the historical Eucharistic Event, the New Covenant; there is no idealization or abstraction or reification or norm or algorithm or recipe or Perfection or Form that is "human nature." However lofty our aims, however much or little we 'spiritualize' intellection or rationality and seek 'spirituality' in the immaterial and/or the time-less, however much or little we deploy what passes for our science, all that we are able to find when we begin our search with these things is fallenness as normative. That is not where we can look for real, true, substantial human nature.

Covenantal moral theologies assert this as a matter of theological method; and they further assert that all and any of our efforts to search for substantial human nature apart from the historical Eucharist Event will, every one of them, be found, even eventually by honest proponents, to self-generate insoluble paradoxes, lead us down blind alleys.

No amount of cleverness, scholarship, determination, ingeniousness, can liberate any search for "human nature" that is fundamentally looking for a non-existent Thing. Our Pole Star is the historical One Flesh of the One Sacrifice, or we are lost utterly, we drift aimlessly, without recourse or relief.

The protest is heard that there is no scriptural referent for Mary's pre-existence. This is untrue; but moreover, the new Eve's primordial pre-existence is accounted for simply in the primordial humanity of her Son. He is, after all, her Son.

But Mary's pre-existence is also testified to in the ProtoEvangelium [Gen 3:15], for that passage is not mere future promise, either for the Lord Jesus, or for her. Yet Mary's being has been "in the beginning" different from the first Adam's and the first Eve's, for Mary has always lived solely in the death of the Lord -- her soul magnifies the Lord [Lk 1:46], even to His death: "a sword will pierce through your own soul, also" [Lk 2:35]; she too is struck, as the serpent strikes at His heel.

As after the Fall the Mission of her Son now required Him to freely take up the full responsibility of the fallen Creation by His death, so also even in her primordial existence she has always been among the poor: "my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." [Lk 1: 47-49]

Thus Mary, though only a human creature, is greater than all the saints. "In the beginning" her entire existence has been in the death of the Lord; from the moment of her creation, a sword pierces her soul; the new Eve is always both Virgin of virgins and the Mother of Sorrows, for by her covenantal union with her Son, she completes "what is lacking" in His afflictions. In Him, her sacrifice of praise becomes the One Sacrifice for all men, the New Covenant in His blood, the Eucharistic Event by which the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the whole world.

Thus the sacraments of the Holy Catholic Church are movements of bodies in historical time that are infallibly consequential on the order of substance, because hers are, in covenantal union with those of her Bridegroom and Son and Lord. Though she is a mere creature, her humanity is, from Him, primordial, integral, and free "in the beginning;" and thus her acts in union with His, no less than those of Her Bridegroom and Son and Lord, are fully free, integral, consequential on the order of substance. As One Flesh with Him, she has a share in His deeds, and in His death.

Mary is the new Eve, Virgin of virgins, the one and only bride of the Bridegroom, the Mother of God and the Mother of all the living. There is no substantial human nature, nor any human unity, apart from the One Flesh, apart from her with Him. This ongoing, historical, eventful unity, the One Flesh in the New Covenant, is human nature -- not "shares in" human being: it is substantial human being per se: free, multi-personal, historical, covenantal, sacramental, ecclesial.

Substantial human being does not exist without Him and her equally, nor without the covenant between them -- His free offer of it, and her free fiat; and this historical, nuptially-ordered ongoing free covenantal relation between the Head and His glory, between the Son and His mother, between the Bridegroom and His bride, is the source and font of all the humanity and of all the human unity we possess.

Her acts within fallen historical time as she fully, purely, freely, integrally, covenantally, joins Him in His death, infallibly unite with His acts in fallen historical time; they are consequential on the order of substance. They matter. They proceed, not by an infinite succession of demi-urges, but covenantally and therefore historically, ex opere operato: they cause what they signify. This is the inherent vulnerability, and the overwhelming surety, of covenantal, historical, reality.

We notice that in the preceding paragraph, the referent pronoun 'her' is equally truly spoken of the Catholic Church as of Mary, the Mother of the Church.

Here it should be stressed that the second-century patristic attribution of the title of "second Eve" to the Theotokos does not trespass on the reservation of this bridal relation to the Church, for Mary and the Church identify at a level never adequately explored by theologians but nonetheless latent in the early patristic ascription to both of the title "second Eve," an insight that owes nothing to Plato and everything to Paul. Vatican II's LUMEN GENTIUM explicitly recognized the Church-Mary unity in making Marian doctrine a branch of ecclesiology. [CT III]

Our free entry, then, into our true human nature, our true human unity, and our true human moral responsibility, occurs only as we share, sacramentally and in ecclesia, in the Eucharistic Event which alone transcends time, while being in every way, also in time; for in this life, this alone, this mediated, sacramental, ecclesial, multi-personal and yet also absolutely personal remedy, is how we share in the death of the Lord and thus become both fully human and humanly united with each other, as adopted sons of God: we are one body because we eat the One Bread, and not otherwise.

Upon this understanding, a myriad of questions open up. We should not -- not ever -- fear this; for what covenantal moral theologies are about is not system, but science. Indeed, the entire effort to make theology a system is misplaced. Our primary effort must always be to make our accounts correspond to the facts, and only secondarily to make our theological accounts self-consistent.

To the contrary, although we do try to notice and fix inconsistencies ourselves, this is the job of mere warranted helpful ruthless logic, not science. But as scientists and not mere logicians, we welcome those moments when the facts reveal themselves to be inconsistent with our carefully-manicured accounts, and thus sitting on our laurels and burnishing our "system" becomes no longer an option. Being taken by surprise is hardly ever A Good Thing in normal life, but in science, it always is.

Covenantal moral theologies are thus ever vulnerable, and deliberately so; there will always be something more to learn, and it very well may not fit into our current accounts; and this eventuality, we delight in, and encourage, and pray for. Although we no longer fall prey to some self-generated perplexities of the past, it is not the case that we thereby know everything, for having improved our knowledge a little by asking a slightly better question.

For instance: when we thought that "human nature" was a monadic substance imposed on us whether we liked it or not, it may have seemed a trivial matter to understand how we each 'got' our human nature. Now, as we understand that the 'nature' which has been imposed on us is sarx, our fallen humanity, and that this is Adam and Eve's -- our kin's -- fault, not God's; and that our substantial human nature is the free historical Eucharistic Event and is not at all imposed on us, we may well ask, "How can this be?" -- how can we, who are (now) 'naturally' sarx, become freely consubstantial with our Lord and His bride in history, and attain any true human nature at all?

In covenantal moral theologies, better questions do not arise at will, or even at need. However, we can proceed with hope. For we are able not only to examine the liturgical tradition of the Church for the thing itself, but also, we may and can look quizzically at our fallen human nature for partial hints.

For fallen human nature bears some relation to substantial human nature, just as the Old Covenant bears some relation to the New Covenant, just as bread and wine bear some relation to the Body and Blood of the Lord, just as our fallen bodies bear some relation to our resurrected ones. However, that relation -- which is real -- can only be seen within the context of the new state; it cannot be 'deduced' from an examination of the prior state: the New Testament is inseparable from the Old Testament, and the antetype can be understood and grasped from within the context of the type, but the New Covenant cannot be 'deduced', merely extrapolated, from the Old.

Similarly, it is a fundamental error in moral theology to imagine that we may arrive at better questions about substantial human being by beginning with any Platonic or Aristotelian, or any 'modern' or 'scientific', development of human nature whatever. The problem is the same: for example, we may begin our questions to the Eucharistic Event by looking at bread and wine all we want, and never find the Eucharist; for bread and wine is simply the wrong place to start.

It is pointless to begin covenantal moral theologies with (for example) venerable commonplaces such as "man is a rational animal," or by means of the 'spiritualizing' of human intellectual processes. None of these will be adequate starting points, for none begin by looking in the right direction.

Unless we begin our investigations of substantial human nature by standing within the liturgical tradition of the Catholic Church, we will simply not progress in our understanding of substantial human nature. Our fallen human questions about human nature are all, at best, antetypes to the type of questions that we first need to ask.

Thus, however penetrating our investigation of fallen human nature is or becomes, it is theologically impossible to deduce substantial human nature from our fallen human nature. For as the relationship between the Old and New Testaments is a free relationship, such that the New Testament is not a necessary implication of the Old; so also there is a free relationship between our fallen human nature and our spiritual; that is, resurrected, human nature. They are inseparable, but our substantial human being is not a necessary implication of our fallen human being.

Of particular relevance to covenantal moral theologies is the fact that both Plato and Aristotle of course investigated and defined the categories of 'will' and 'intellect' apart from the New Covenant; how could it have been otherwise? But therefore, neither the Platonic nor the Aristotelian investigations and definitions of 'will' and 'intellect' have any particular, let alone necessary, relationship to substantial reality, whether as divine or human.

When finally in the early fourteenth century the metaphysics borrowed from Plato and Aristotle was beginning to be seen to have failed, in fact to have turned in the hands of those who employed it for theological ends, the cosmological pessimism which it had embodied still dominated the theological imagination of the West. The burgeoning nominalist movement now relied upon the abstract and nonhistorical formality of logic as the prior norm of all rationality, and on that ideal base concluded to that dissociation of the free truth of the Christian faith from reason, and that modern divorce of freedom and intelligibility from concrete historical reality which, anticipated by the Latin Averroists, is now nearly instinctive to pagan and Christian alike. Historical faith, precisely because it requires a concrete, historical expression, is seen to invoke a servile blind obedience, whether as that trusting "leap in the dark" which the faith entailed for Kierkegaard, or as the irrationality of the sacrificium intellectus rightly condemned by Paul Tillich, the heir of liberal theology--although in the absence of an unambiguous historical ground Tillich's systematic rigor could avoid Kierkegaard's blind voluntarism only by that devaluation of history as which is at bottom simply another return to the cosmological pessimism inherent in all such reliance upon a supposedly autonomous rationality. [ CT Vol. II, ch 4, p. 385 ]

Harsh it may be to say, but it is nonetheless true: the entire effort to assume the direct relevance of, and then to apply, the Greek categories of 'will' and 'intellect' to substantial reality, whether as divine or human, fails from before the outset. None of our developments, refinements, arguments, or disputes regarding the theme of 'will' and 'intellect' in moral theology -- none -- however traditional or acclaimed, have any necessary relevance to substantial reality, whether as divine or as human, if their starting-point is the Greeks, and not the New Covenant. To the contrary, we must view all such speculations with at least a very skeptical eye, and perhaps even a jaundiced one.

For we begin in the wrong place. We look first in nature as fallen, erroneously assuming (despite all doctrine to the contrary) that grace is 'really' a necessary implication of fallen being. Then we purport to derive some 'truth' of moral theology 'as if' apart from the Eucharistic Event, which is impossible on its face; and then we claim that this 'truth', of necessity applies to, and thus is prior to, substantial reality as divine and human.

This is a drastic error in theology: we are not asking God what He is like, we are telling Him what He is like; and we are not asking God what we are like, we are telling ourselves what we are like. Of course, we did not intend this. Yes, our error can only be seen in retrospect, within a slightly better theological question: this profound mistake, made by both saints and sinners, has been innocent. Nonetheless, better questions in moral theology can no longer arise from this 'move'.

Whatever better questions arise with regard to our currently-impoverished investigations of how we may freely be human, how we may freely be unified, how we may be freely consubstantial with our Lord and His bride in history, these better questions must at least begin by rejecting the supposition that our free consubstantiality in the New Covenant is dehistoricized, ideal, and immediate, rather than always and everywhere mediated, historical, and sacramental, in and through His one and only bride. Nor can it be otherwise; for we are not his bride -- not ever, not any of us:

Here we may cite Thomas Kempis' classic, THE IMITATION OF CHRIST, the number of whose published editions is said to have been exceeded only by those of the Bible. Its understanding of the soul of the Christian as in a bridal relation to the Word or to the Christ, reliant upon a tradition extending from Origen through Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Thomas, and the late medieval devotio moderna, to John of the Cross, C. S. Lewis, de Lubac and von Balthasar, issues in a spirituality simply detached from and uninformed by the sacramental worship of the Church. Despite the "pious exhortations for holy communion," in the fourth book, the spirituality of THE IMITATION OF CHRIST, is one of immediacy: how else, if each soul is in bridal relation to the Christ?


There can be no doubt that Catholic mysticism is ecclesial: it could not otherwise be Catholic. Catholic spirituality is sacramentally nourished and sustained through personal participation in the Catholic liturgy, which can only be irrelevant to a spirituality in which the dehistoricized and thereby monadic human "soul" seeks a nuptial union with the Word, a union which, as nuptial and consequently immediate, is unique, reserved solely to the bridal Church, the second Eve, and impossible to her members, whose union with the risen Lord is historical, ecclesially mediated because sacramentally signed and caused.... [The] femininization of the monadic soul is an echo of the ancient pagan dualism which, as Platonism, had misled Origen. It can find no support in the Catholic liturgical and doctrinal tradition. [ CT III, endnote 288 ]

No soul but hers ever marries the Lord of history, even metaphorically; we need to begin to realize the sheer scandal in even thinking along contrary lines, however 'traditionally' we have been led to it, for it is perverse on its face.

There is no 'lonely soul' path to salvation. The substantial reality in which we may freely live and breathe and have our being is only available to us as an effect of the Eucharistic Event -- solely as mediated, solely as historical, solely as multi-personal, solely as sacramental and therefore ecclesial. Even the Old Testament saints now live in the Lord not only because of Him but also because of her, because at long last their life is now fully ecclesial, and hence fully personal, fully covenantal, fully moral, fully human, fully free.

The times being what they are, we should also observe that Jesus is male, and Mary, female; that the One Flesh is a living covenantal union between Jesus, the male Bridegroom, and the new Eve, who is not only His one-and-only bride, but is also His female bride.

And we should further note that these are historical facts, constitutive facts of the New Covenant. They are not derived, extrinsically, from a prior theory, whether of human nature, marriage, or sex. There is no abstract nonhistorical 'Mary' who is only incidentally female, any more than there exists an abstract nonhistorical 'Jesus' who is only incidentally male.

Yet the New Covenant is both a nuptial and a free Event. It is free both in the sense of the freedom of both its participants, the second Adam and the new Eve, and in the sense that there is no prior possibility for it. There is no prior and more certain Thing or rationality or logic or 'truth' that is 'before' or 'beyond' the New Covenant, 'higher' than it, which constrains us either intellectually or personally to accept its nuptiality whether we like it or not.

The intrinsic nuptiality of the New Covenant is part of the Gift. We are ever free to consider ourselves slaves, just because we do not control that. Since the New Covenant is both a nuptial and a free Event, its meaning and consequence as nuptial may always be refused, intellectually and personally; but to refuse the nuptiality of the New Covenant is to refuse it entire, it is to lay down, or never take up, the responsibilities of covenantal existence, and walk away.

To return to our discussion: in short, our Mother is unique, because Mary's union with her Lord is nuptial and therefore immediate -- not mediated. This is not true, nor can it be true, of anyone else who has ever lived or will ever live.

The contemporary denigration of Mary as a "model disciple" is Protestant merely, thus non-historical, anti-sacramental; for she is both His actual bride, His actual mother, and the actual Mother of all disciples, not merely a "model disciple."

The "model disciple" device -- 'subterfuge' is more apt -- dehistoricizes Mary, makes her an 'example' of a mere ideal. She herself, in her very being within ineradicable history, is now objectified as a mere 'model' of something far more significant and real than she; she has been reduced to an abstraction from which some sort of 'example' may be extracted. She becomes what we have fought against for so long: a mere vessel.

And as the mere 'container' of a 'discipleship' that now is ideal, impersonal, extrinsic, ineffable within history because not substantial within it, she could be anybody; her appellation happens to be 'Mary', but it could just as well be THX 1138. No longer is she, with Him, the font of discipleship; now her reality is to have been assigned a title, 'model disciple', extrinsically (by whom?). We no longer learn discipleship because He is our brother and she is our Mother; oh, no: we learn that extrinsically, from our betters, who will tell us -- and her -- what 'discipleship' is, as it suits them.

Our Lady is not some 'very good example' of a non-historical ideal; she is His mother, and His bride; she is the Mother of the Church, the true Mother of all the living, and our Mother. There can be no peace between her reality, and the disdainful pigeonholing of her as a "model disciple," which seeks to expunge her reality from history. Without her, there is no history; there is merely unredeemed fallen-ness, a meaningless succession of events, ticks on a clock, signifying nothing. And all this is as true for the Church as for Mary, for though they are distinct, yet in so many ways we may not separate them.

"Co-Redemptrix" is a title that has been used of her for a long time, though never definitively ratified; but it is difficult to account for substantial human being, let alone for the economy of salvation, apart from this role for her, if not the title.

Mary is unique. There is no 'human nature' 'above', 'beyond', 'before', or prior to the nuptiality of the Bridegroom with His bride, the Eucharistic Event in the One Sacrifice. Substantial human nature is both created in the New Covenant, and is constitutional of it. Nor may we dissociate this mystery into separable 'elements', for there are none: this unity, the One Flesh, is covenantal, historical, nuptial per se: no man can divide what God has joined together.

Substantial human being is free, multi-personal, historical, covenantal, sacramental, mediated, ecclesial. It is not immediate, direct, monadic, atomistic, lonely, organic, mechanistic, or imposed. We freely take up our cross and follow Him, not ever as a 'lonely soul', but far rather, always and only sacramentally, as members of His Church, and become fully human -- or we do not; and our freedom to do so is intrinsic to the offer itself.

What we are offered as gift, is not imposed on us, not by iron logic, not by anything or any One. To temporarily use the old categories (in part, to observe the manner in which they are insufficient), we are free to take up our substantial humanity, free not only in the 'will' but also in the 'intellect' -- an idea that within the old categories appears only as an absurdity, summarily impossible; or more precisely, it cannot be articulated within them at all. For "the abstract and nonhistorical formality of logic" simply is not "the prior norm of all rationality." [ CT II, p. 129 ]

Our Pole Star for all our questions about substantial human nature is the Eucharistic Event itself: if we keep the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in sight, we are at least somewhat on the right track; but if we lose sight of that, we are lost.

Nor is it true that we are able to escape the fundamental inadequacy of the old questions by 'spiritualizing' something that we find to be, or at least claim to be, immaterial. For substantial human nature is simply not a 'natural' implication of sarx, fallenness as normative -- whether that fallenness be material or immaterial. The number 'four' and the color 'green' may well be immaterial, but there is only Greek warrant to suppose that immateriality per se makes anything whatever in any way 'spiritual', let alone spared the consequences of the Fall, for it does not; and we certainly may not suppose that immaterial beings are in any way prior to the Lord of history.

If our questions do not at least begin with the Eucharistic Event and do not maintain at least the steadiest of their gazes upon it, those questions are, at best, antetypes to the type; it is theologically impossible to find substantial human nature solely by asking questions about fallen nature as normative. No level of sophistication can even in theory overcome this obstacle. Better questions regarding substantial human being can only arise within our personal, mediated participation in the sacraments of Most Holy Catholic Church, within the historical, not ideal, nuptiality of the new Adam with the new Eve, in the One Sacrifice.

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