Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned."
[ Mk 16:14-16 ]
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
[ Mt 28:16-20 ]
After Pentecost, even when the apostles faced ridicule and stiff opposition, even when they confronted torture and martyrdom, they did what our Lord had told them to do: preach to and baptize "all nations."
Their lives had changed; the crucified and risen Lord had made them His brothers and nourished them with His body and blood. The Eucharist, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, the New Covenant, The Way, was a Gift beyond all other gifts, a Way beyond all other ways. They had to share it, not just because our Lord had told them to do so, but because that was the nature of the Gift, that is the nature of The Way: it is meant to be shared.
To begin with, we point out that, for covenantal moral theologies, there is no 'natural' (fallen as normative) urgency to fulfill the evangelical commission; Catholics possess this urgency in the same way that they possess the commission itself: in ecclesia, by gift.
Obviously, this is not to say that men are never gripped by enthusiasms, by passions, by determination, that they are never moved, nor move themselves, in one direction rather than another. We speak rather of why it is fundamental to one's existence as a Catholic, as a brother of the Lord, as a son of His mother and bride, to be moved and to move oneself in this direction, to possess this enthusiasm, this passion -- this urgency -- to evangelize.
We want to reflect today on the relief every Catholic parent feels when a child is baptized, and the joy, coupled with a sense of the massive responsibility now being gifted, that every Catholic feels when anyone is baptized.
However, covenantal moral theologies distinguish the deep apostolic zeal to preach and to baptize from the motivation to baptize out of Dread; and in this essay we will also examine the (de-motivation) of Despair, and discuss a another seeming impediment to the urgency of the evangelical commission, which will prompt an exploration of covenantal subsidiarity, and reveal a somewhat unexplored and wonderful reason to wish to sacramentally baptize every willing human being as soon as possible.
We will have more to say on Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell later, but in brief: covenantal moral theologies propose that immersion in the death of the Lord (which death He called His "Baptism") is metaphysically prior to sacramental Baptism; that one death comes to all, but now the only death that remains is the Lord's death, Who has defeated death; and that these facts have consequences.
And, since substantial reality is covenantal, not juridical, at our personal Judgment at the 'moment' of our death, Our Lord and Our Lady will tell us what we have done and what we have failed to do, and we will either acknowledge the truth of what they attest, say we are sorry, and beg forgiveness, or we will laugh and spit at them and their "opinion," and walk away.
We will Judge ourselves, and be treated like the father treated his Prodigal son. The Prodigal assigned himself to live among the pigs. No 'smiting' was involved. At that 'moment' of our death, the Father will give us exactly what we want; and our free choice to accept or reject the Judgment of Our Lord and Our Lady regarding what we have done and what we have failed to do -- our free choice for Heaven or Hell -- will be permanent. At that 'moment' of our personal Judgment, God will do us the honor of taking us seriously.
Let us begin with Dread. A kind of charitable Dread for the unbaptized may prompt a felt urgency to preach to and baptize them: the dread that they're going to Hell if they die without being baptized.
However, for covenantal moral theologies, Dread is unable to serve as the primary motivation to preach and to baptize. To put this in the simplest terms possible: the New Covenant is covenantal -- historical, relational, ecclesial, in this life, sacramental -- not juridical. This is a fact that covenantal moral theologies must take seriously systematically, as a matter of method.
We have previously argued that sacramental Baptism is not the only Baptism known either to Jesus or to Mother Church. We will have more to say about that later in this essay, and about an implication of that: Dread for another's soul can be part of the motivation to preach and to baptize, but the only sufficient motivation to preach and to baptize is joy, is love.
And we have pointed out that conceiving of the New Covenant in juridical terms self-generates contradictions:
"If we deny him, he also will deny us" [2 Tim 2:12] is a far more certain way to think about Hell, than a metaphor of a wrathful yet somehow also merciful God who definitely requires eternal satisfaction for mortal sin, but who also definitely doesn't require that at all, if we're sorry.
The above formulation, even as roughly as we have characterized it, has become so familiar that the blatant opposition between Justice and Mercy within it may no longer even seem troublesome. Alternatively, noticing the nagging difficulties, we resort to choosing one pole over the other; we set aside Justice, in favor of Mercy, or the reverse: in days of yore, we may have opined that nearly everybody goes to Hell, since Justice cannot be denied; these days, we may "dare to hope" that Mercy simply annihilates Justice, and nobody goes to Hell.
The labyrinth that we enter once we attempt to "resolve" this conundrum is marvelous in its complexity: God is the Lawgiver, and His will is iron; God is Love, and His will is yielding; God is supremely and absolutely Just; God is supremely and absolutely Merciful; God can dispense Justice; or dispense with Justice; Heaven itself cries out for Justice; Heaven itself cries out for Mercy... next question.
Somehow, this satisfies, since then, everything in moral theology can still tick along quite nicely -- so what's the problem?
For better or for worse, covenantal moral theologies have no ability even to enter this morass, and must find some other way forward. The New Covenant is covenantal; anything less is off the table, methodologically unavailable.
Here it suffices to say that within moral theologies that take Greek priors for granted, covenantal motivations to fulfill the evangelical commission are bound to seem absurd -- indeed, to be strictly inconceivable, simply because covenantal moral theologies must take free responsibility seriously -- a concept that cannot even exist for the Greeks.
For the Greeks, freedom is directly antagonistic to kosmos, ordering Law, it belongs instead to khaos, absurdity, unintelligibility, irresponsibility. A free responsibility is therefore inconceivable within the Greek metaphysics. Responsibility belongs to kosmos, freedom belongs to khaos.
To begin: we have made the case that the death of the Lord is metaphysically prior to sacramental Baptism; indeed, we have called "Baptism of desire" a theological contraption, as little resembling genuine particular physical Baptism as "spiritual communion" resembles the "...chew, munch, devour: eating in a sense common to beasts as well as to men" [CT, Vol. III, endnote 89] commanded by our Lord regarding what we are to do with His consecrated Body.
Since Moses and David -- for that matter, St. Joseph -- were never baptized but are definitively raised to the Church's altars as saints, we have regarded immersion in the death of the Lord as metaphysically prior to sacramental Baptism, to be the Baptism that is primus inter pares, the Baptism that is inevitable and redemptive for all the dead, though still not at all saving (see below).
Therefore, the fully redemptive sacrament of Baptism, also not saving in itself, and in this life the only action of the Lord with His bride that causes immersion in His death, is secondus inter pares.
In passing we have referred to the fate of unbaptized infants. Trent defined their fate in [DS §§ 925-6], especially:
Illorum autem animas, qui in mortali peccato vel cum solo originali decedunt, mox in infernum descendere, poenis tamen ac locis disparibus puniendas....
[ Moreover, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell, but to undergo punishments of different kinds. ]
Medical science now knows that the rate of spontaneous abortion (which may occur without the mother even realizing she is pregnant) is 30 to perhaps 50 percent of all pregnancies.
Therefore, if we read DS §§ 925-6 as it is traditionally read: that it is unimaginable that anything except the sacrament of Baptism, and that alone, remits original sin, then it is definitive that God has always consigned, and will always consign, 30 to perhaps 50 percent of all the infants he has ever created to Hell upon their deaths, there to eternally "undergo punishments," if "of different kinds."
And, moreover, we have never been able to do a thing about that, and (absent a host of utterly immoral interventions in sexual congress, conception, carrying an infant in the mother's womb, etc. etc), we will never morally be able to do a thing about it, either.
As we have pointed out just above, "Baptism of desire" is no solution at all; it is plainly a theological contraption, ridiculous, unable even to bear its own weight; and here we might as well make the identical criticism of similarly unliturgical theological contraptions, such as "Limbo," a "place" in the underworld ("infernum") that must be part of Hell, for it is certainly not Heaven, which is a punishment ("poenis") for infants so little loved by God, that they are forever unable to sleep in Christ, yet also, so little hated by Him, that their punishment is "of various kinds."
For many Catholic faithful, to deny "Baptism of desire" and "Limbo" leaves them desolate, without hope for some of their loved ones; and this suggests a reason why these obvious theological gadgets were slapped together in the first place.
As contradictory and insupportable as these theological gizmos are, they all seem contrived to bring the grieving faithful some succor, in the face of the steady magisterial effort to protect the Faith by opposing any effort to deny the necessity of Baptism, which eventually resulted in what appeared to be the ominous and desolate summaries of DS §§ 925-6.
And now, simply by pointing out a fact, we have made DS §§ 925-6 even more ominous and desolate.
Even given such a provocation, we steadfastly refused to "adjust" the doctrine of the necessity of Baptism for salvation; however, we pointed out that Saint Moses, Saint David, and even Saint Joseph also never received the sacrament of Baptism; and recalled both the evident truth that the Lord's death is metaphysically prior to sacramental Baptism, and that He spoke of His own "Baptism," by which He meant, His death:
But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the Baptism with which I am baptized?"
[ Mk 10:38 ]
But I have a Baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!
[ Lk 12:50 ]
And we suggested:
Thus for covenantal moral theologies, Baptism, both immersion in the Lord's death and its sacramental equivalent, is necessary for salvation, but it is not sufficient for salvation. We are not rocks, cleansed by the Lord's Baptism and now placed in the 'shiny' pile.
No; for substantial reality is no static Thing; it is The Way: an ongoing kinship history of gifts, works, and obligations with the Bridegroom and His bride and with all their kin.
But one must first be freed, to choose freely. One must first become a son, in order to freely take up the dangerous responsibility to choose salvation, or to freely choose to disdain one's sonship.
We have previously attested that substantial human nature just is the New Covenant. Unlike sarx -- what is left of 'human nature' after the Fall -- which is imposed, we freely choose our substantial human nature.
... "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.
An aspect of our enslavement in sarx that is relevant to this essay is that, until we are Baptized, we can have no unique, irreplaceable personal name.
The following caricature unwittingly sketches the utter degradation of our names within sarx, as well as the triviality of our telos within sarx:
Everyone is the same;
Everyone is different;
Jesus wants us to be nice.
In Baptism, our stony hearts are replaced, not merely cleansed; and we are given an irreplaceable and unique Baptismal name, which just is our kinship history with our Lord and our Lady and with all their kin past and present. Our Lord claims us as His brother, and His Mother now knows us, uniquely and irreplaceably, as her son.
Our new name, our kinship history, is not only holy, and more lasting than any name we could have had previously. Our new name is literally impossible -- inconceivable -- within sarx.
It is altogether good if our sarkic name is respected and honored and loved by our family and friends, even by the whole world -- but don't count on that; and Time will eventually devour it, at any rate.
But that is the maximum anyone can hope for, from his sarkic, unbaptized, name.
Absent the Baptismal gift of our substantial human nature, our name, however good, simply cannot be unique and irreplaceable. That is as beyond our sarkic name as it is beyond bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of our Lord. It's not just impossible; it's inconceivable.
Perhaps worst of all, absent our Baptismal name -- our ongoing kinship history with our Lord and His Mother and with all their kin, our Mother cannot 'find' us, since everything that she knows and can know, she knows through her worship of her Lord -- relationally.
Absent our Baptismal name, we are far too imprisoned in the darkness of sarx for our Mother to be able to 'find' us, since she can know us solely through her worship of her Lord; therefore, she is unable to dote on our every breath, as she was born to do.
Only by means of a real and true Baptismal name, a kinship history with our Lord and His bride and with all their kin, are we gifted with our substantial human nature.
For covenantal moral theologies, this Baptismal gift of our substantial human nature, which just is our personally named kinship history with the Bridegroom and His bride and all their kin in the One Sacrifice, is the reason that Catholics profess that we "look forward to the resurrection of the dead;" which is to say, we look forward to the certainty of a resurrected body, a body like the present body of our brother Jesus the risen Lord and the present body of His mother and bride.
For even the possibility of a resurrected body is absolutely unavailable within sarx, within what is left of our human nature after the Fall; a resurrected body is solely available once we are gifted with substantial human nature; only thus do we have in potentia a body like the (unfallen) Lord and His (unfallen) mother, a body that can be resurrected.
But to say it again, in order for us to have the capacity to freely choose our substantial human nature, we must first be gifted with it -- so we can, if we choose, freely, responsibly, and definitively abjure it forever.
For covenantal moral theologies, this is the reason Baptism is necessary for salvation: an unfree choice, the 'choice' of one who is not yet a brother of the Lord, a son of His mother and bride, cannot save.
The gift of Baptism, of sonship, is essential to a truly free assent; but then a soul, at that 'moment' of his death, does make his truly free and final and definitive choice.
While our Lord and our Lady listen and attend, at that 'moment' of a man's death, this soul, this son, freely, without hesitation or possibility of prevarication, makes his own judgment regarding his life -- and what he wants to do next.
We should make a brief excursus. The decisiveness of Heaven or Hell at the 'moment' of death is thus not in issue for covenantal moral theologies. However, a juridical view of eternal damnation seems to be advantageous here: it guarantees that the damned will remain in Hell forever, even if they later regret it. The punishment was eternal damnation, and God will make sure of that.
But why will the angels and saints in Heaven never be required to leave Heaven -- why will they never sin? God prevents them?
One standard response has to do with the (pagan) idea that there can be no motion or change in God, thus there can be no motion or change in the angels and saints in Heaven, who enjoy an immovable and time-less 'vision' of the immovable and time-less God -- whose hands and side are not pierced. (Later here we will have slightly more to say concerning the perils of investigating the attributes of 'God' with little or even no reference to Jesus).
For covenantal moral theologies, the angels and saints in Heaven remain sinless for all eternity not because there is no movement or change in Heaven, but because the angels and saints are able to keep their promises. Thus the question "But could they sin?" is of the same nature as an sit verum?, "But is it true?"
As Covenantal Theology observes, to begin the theological quaerens with "an sit verum?" is already to invoke another god more godly than, prior to, the Lord of history; it is to repudiate the theological task, fides quaerens intellectum, from before the outset:
Catholic theology must then refuse the cosmological gambit, which would invite a discussion of its faith by posing the question, "An sit verum?" Theology does not seek the truth: possessing the truth in ecclesia by gift, Catholic theology seeks to understand in ecclesia ever more fully the mystery mediated there, a mystery which we cannot comprehend, but from which we may learn forever. To occupy oneself with "But is it true?" is to abdicate the office of theologian, of fides quaerens intellectum.
[ CT II, Epilogue, p. 652 ]
Certainly, in fallen existence, people might go back on their promises; but it is another thing entirely to refuse a decisive Heaven and a decisive Hell, since our Lord Himself in many ways and places explicitly affirms that Heaven and Hell are decisive and eternal.
For covenantal moral theologies, both the angels and the saints remain as faithful as the Lord Jesus Himself and never go back on their promises, not because they 'cannot', but because they have already been tested and proved; thus to ask such a question as 'might they sin?' of the angels and saints in heaven is to stand in a 'place' in which Heaven 'might' not be decisive, and 'might' not tell us definitively what an angel is like, what a saint is like, and substitute that preference for an answer that the very existence of the angels and saints in Heaven has already given: that they are trustworthy, to the end and beyond.
We must now delve more deeply, from a covenantal perspective, into the personal Judgment of each soul. Since at that 'moment' of his death, having undergone our Lord's own Baptism, he is Mother Church's adopted son, she knows him; thus she knows his sins with certainty.
But will he decide to remain her son, and thus our Lord's brother? For if he rejects his sonship at that 'moment', he can then reject what his adopted brother Jesus and his adopted Mother tell him about his sins.
After all, in the Garden, Eve had a minor disagreement with God, about what was, and was not, a sin. She resolved the disagreement by rupturing her relationship with Him.
Recall that in the bounty of the Garden there was only one fruit that Adam and Eve should not eat. But the devil told Eve that there is no such thing as free responsibility: any self-respecting god regards even the tiniest specific responsibility to be an offense against his freedom.
To the contrary, what God offered Eve was the opportunity to express her freedom concretely, by giving God Himself a gift, a gift that to the devil makes no sense, can never make sense, a gift that would give herself in her free refusal to put herself above holiness.
What would happen to Eve if she ate of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden, if she made that a part of herself? The devil explained it perfectly to her: then she would 'know' Good and Evil, meaning she would know the 'names' of Good and Evil, thus have power over them both, she would be 'beyond' Good and Evil, she would possess both Good and Evil as her playthings.
The petty specificities of the covenant would no longer concern her; she would disdain as hateful, because not entirely within her control, her existence as a concrete, particular worship, her existence as the giver and receiver of concrete specific historical gifts, within a Gift freely given by Gift Himself.
For covenantal moral theologies, at the 'moment' of a man's death, he will not be forced to agree with our Lord and His mother and bride about what were, and what were not, his sins. If the man disagrees with their assessment, he is free -- not merely, as Eve, to rupture the relationship -- but to end it forever.
He can if he wishes speak unspeakable words, derisive words, contemptuous words, he can wish the Father and His Son and bride and all their kin dead to him forever.
But at that 'moment', he will not have the ability to vacillate, to equivocate. In a way, at that 'moment', he will be forced -- to take himself seriously.
At that 'moment', as a son, in the presence of his brother our Lord and his mother our Lady, that soul will freely judge for himself exactly what he wants to do next, what he really wants from the Father.
And the Father will give him exactly that.
For covenantal moral theologies, God is truly and terribly dangerous. The Prodigal assigned himself to live among the pigs. Eve assigned herself to death and woe. They thought themselves fine fellows, canny and wise beyond their Father; they preferred the path they chose.
Who can doubt that a life lived in active, deliberate contempt of all that is holy, a life in which sins are not shameful and abhorred but rather are a pleasure and a convenience, will predispose that soul to be revolted by the kinship history that Our Lord and His mother offer, and to vehemently dispute what they tell him about the sins of his life?
Who can doubt that a man who has repeatedly rejected our Lord's and His Mother's assessment of good and evil and substituted his own in the life he has lived, and thought himself a fine fellow -- and the world may have agreed with him -- would not do the same, one last time?
Who can doubt that a man who has spent his life laughing at the Son and His mother and bride and all their kin, even spitting on them and reviling them, would not in his final choice display his contempt, one last time?
Yet also who can doubt that at the death of an innocent babe, now immersed in the death of the Lord, thus now in possession of his substantial human nature, capable of resurrection and of worship, freed from original sin and literally incapable of personal sin, a babe who now has Mary and indeed the entire ecclesia for his doting and protective spiritual mother and our Lord for his brother -- who can doubt that he now continues forever with them in Heaven?
And who can doubt that a life, even some part of a time of a life, of receiving the sacraments and accompanying others on The Way, can teach and sanctify a soul in the ways of the worship that is living and true; and that those habits of love, and the prayers of the saints in heaven and on earth for that soul (whom they all know because of his unique and personal Baptismal name), and the grace of the Holy Spirit still 'breathed' by the Bridegroom with His bride at least in his direction at every Mass, can fortify him at the 'moment' of his death, soften his heart hardened by sin and make him sorrowful for all his sins and willing to give many gifts in reparation for them; and allow him to want, even as a sinner, to be a brother to the Lord, a son to His mother, and kin to all who worthily eat and have eaten the One Bread, and to give Saint Peter's answer when the Lord asks him decisively and finally, "But who do you say that I am?"
All souls who at the 'moment' of their death do not reject the gift of their kinship history with our Lord and His mother and bride and with all their kin, but rather welcome and affirm it, are not only forgiven all their sins but are also saved. They have decisively grasped our Lord's hand as His brother, suffered His Mother's extravagant hugs, and been welcomed with joy by all their kin.
But for some of these souls, and perhaps for many of them, though they are saved, Purgatory will still be needed for them to complete their gifts of temporal punishment for the consequences of their sins.
Although sins are indeed forgiven by Baptism, those sins were real and had consequences, so there remain the gifts that must be given, the temporal punishments needed, to make reparation for, to 'route around', those consequences, not in order to restore a pagan status quo ante, but, in union with the Spiritus Creator, to make something new and good.
But we remember also that the sacramentally baptized -- and only them -- while they are alive, by the sacrament of Confession can have their sins forgiven, and by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, patient endurance of suffering, and the like, the sacramentally baptized are even in this life able to give some gifts, make some reparation, for the consequences of their sins.
Moreover, even the blunt helpless gift of their death can grant the sacramentally baptized the Apostolic Pardon of remission of all temporal punishment for their sins.
But Mother Church cannot hear the Confession of, give Holy Communion, or grant the Apostolic Pardon to any she does not yet know as her sons.
Thus for covenantal moral theologies, even the meager motivation of Dread for souls can prompt a holy desire for all to be baptized, and as soon as possible!
Dread for a soul, even dread for one's own soul, can prompt, and historically and obviously has prompted, a desire to baptize and to be baptized, but equally obviously and historically, even for oneself, the mere desire to escape harm (any port in a storm) cannot constitute a sufficiently free desire to be baptized.
The concrete 'this-ness' of the New Covenant must be desired and honored in particular, for itself.
Those presenting themselves for Baptism are asked, "What do you seek?" And the answer is "Baptism" -- real Baptism; that is, we ask to be immersed in the death of the very specific Lord Jesus, Whose Name is above all other names, and to be given a personal Baptismal name; which is to say, to begin a kinship history with our Lord, with His mother and bride, and with all who worthily eat the One bread in the One Sacrifice, which just is The Way.
Hence the necessity to renounce Satan and all his works and empty promises; hence the necessity to believe in what the Church professes; hence the necessity for the baptizer to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and to observe all the essentials of the Baptismal ordo.
Sacramental Baptism is no small thing; and it is a particular thing.
Yet even the purest and holiest Dread for souls cannot speak to the fundamental urgency to preach to and baptize "all nations." For covenantal moral theologies, one death -- the Lord's Baptism -- now comes to all; but, at our personal Judgment, our immersion in the death of the Lord merely frees us into the terrible danger of Judging ourselves in the very presence of Our Lord and His mother.
So one might well consider that Baptism is not the end of Dread for any man, but its true beginning. As a result, sacramental Baptism makes this life truly ecclesial and therefore already truly dangerous, in a way completely unavailable to the unbaptized.
The sacramentally Baptized are on a knife's edge from that moment; their every breath can be a worship, can reinforce their ongoing kinship history with our Lord and His bride and with all their kin living and dead, or their very breath can diminish, even (we hope, temporarily) refuse, abandon, that kinship history, which is their very baptismal name.
But we have not yet discussed how wonderful sacramental Baptism is. Even the holiest Dread does not overturn, suppress, or reduce an even holier urgency felt by the apostles to preach and to baptize; that remains in its entirety.
For the advantage and wonder of sacramental Baptism in this life is uncountable; it motivates an urgency beyond telling. For this is the nature of the Gift, this is the nature of The Way: it is sheer Gift, and as such, it can be freely refused; but it is far too wonderful, it cannot be kept to oneself; it cries out to be shared: this is the full and true and complete urgency of the evangelical commission.
We will discuss this in more detail a little later in this essay.
Dread for oneself could also be a motivation to evangelize: our Lord gave a command to witness to The Way and to urge others to be baptized, and you will go to Hell if you don't fulfill His command.
This introduces a somewhat relevant point. For covenantal moral theologies, a command from thousands of years ago, even from one Who rose from the dead, is not enough; for as the pagans knew full well, Time erodes, eventually into inconsequence, even the mightiest act and the most powerful word. A king gave a command, thousands of years ago: so what?
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
For covenantal moral theologies, the New Covenant is radically Eucharistic, and therefore is radically historical. There is no "Christ" available to us time-lessly, 'before", 'beyond' his sacramental work this day with His bride: the time-less God Of The Ledger Books, who is somehow utterly distinct from history and yet can peer down and punish within it, is entirely an assumption, a supposition, which, however useful former theologies found it, is methodologically forbidden to covenantal moral theologies.
Moreover, Christ; that is, the totus Christus, He with His bride as mediated Eucharistically, is the full revelation of the Father, the full gift of the Spirit.
Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, is the full revelation of the Father, the full gift of the Spirit: to seek beyond Christ's revelation of the Father is to deny him.
[ CT Vol. II, Appendix, p. 657 ]
For covenantal moral theologies, no part of the urgency of the evangelical commission can be accounted for by the fear of being punished by a time-less Sky God Of The Ledger Books.
Ozymandias's word is dead. It has receded -- it has vanished irretrievably -- into the past. Only the Word Who is "living and active" can be trusted, and His word and work is radically historical, foundationally Eucharistic. Only the Eucharist, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, the Bridegroom with His bride 'breathing' the Holy Spirit into the world, radically historical, fully 'emptied' into Time yet also transcending it, will do.
To say it again: in this fallen world, apart from the Eucharist offered in His Person on this day, even the command of one Who rose from the dead is no more than the command of Ozymandias; apart from our Lord's Eucharistic presence with His bride on this day, even our Lord's words -- even His Cross -- would recede into Time.
That His words are indeed "living and active" on this day, simultaneously "emptied" into Time and transcending it, is of course the Faith, is the very nature of the New Covenant, is the very nature of the continuing Eucharistic work of the risen Bridegroom with His bride, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice.
Only within this Eucharist, today, does the Cross of the Lord not recede into Time; only within this Eucharist, today, can the Lord truly upbraid, not only the eleven, but us, for our lack of belief, for our own hardness of heart, and with His bride both re-gift to us this day the evangelical commission, and replace our stony hearts, re-put the urgency of the evangelical commission back into our hearts.
The reality and Time-transcending power of the Eucharist offered in His Person is the sole reason that Jesus's command to His apostles applies to their successors, and to us.
So, Yes, it is a sin not to do our personal best to fulfill the evangelical commission; but it is a sin, rather than the neglect of an empty word from thousands of years ago, solely because the Eucharist offered in His Person is real this day. The whole Church this day looks us in the eye, and asks if we are doing what we should.
We turn now to the (de-motivation) of Despair, the result of which is a flagging or extinguished desire to continue to witness to and share The Way with others.
What if your efforts at evangelization are unsuccessful? Or what if you are a Utopian or a fanatic, convinced that The Struggle Must Continue until everyone is a loving brother of our Lord and a loving son of His mother and bride?
But Mother Church already knows that even her most diligent evangelical efforts may be unsuccessful. Indeed, she already knows that Hell exists; it is inhabited, forever; and the Father has prepared a place even for those who would despise, hate, and resist His Son with His bride, beyond even the end of Time.
This is the terrible consequence of consequentiality, which was decisively -- consequentially -- disdained, rejected, by our first parents, yet was restored to us in the death of the Second Adam.
Jesus the Christ, through His life, His Passion and Death, His resurrection, and His institution of the Eucharist -- the New Covenant, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice -- has restored real danger to the world; in fact, He has more than restored it. Now, His brothers possess His own dangerousness, and have the ability to freely choose -- permanently.
As Son and Bridegroom He daily honors, to His death, the consequentiality of all our acts.
There, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and only there, are none of our breaths, none of our merest acts, ever trivialized, made inconsequential, ever misplaced, ever forgotten. For only the Eucharistic presence and work of the Lord with His bride are simultaneously "emptied" into Time, and transcend it.
Evil exists; but Despair is misplaced. From the Cross, He bears the consequentiality of all our acts, and does still honor all their consequences, to His death, while 'routing around' our evils in His sheer gift on this day of the Spiritus Creator, stronger than death, stronger than sin.
Some sheep may be found, and some may freely lose themselves; but neither our Lord nor our Lady give up on that account, and neither should we.
But there is another seeming impediment to the urgency of the evangelical commission: it is the strain in Catholic thought and reflection that exalts the next life at the expense of this one.
This present life then is fundamentally tasteless, it has no savor of its own; at times this present life may appear to have some savor, but that always passes, for this present life has savor only as that may occasionally and erratically reflect the perduring, the eternal, the unchangeable taste and sweetness of the next life.
A burlesque satire of this tendency in Catholic thought and reflection might go something like this: From conception to death, we exist in a bus station, waiting to be transported to Someplace Important -- but only if during our wait we have managed to acquire the all-important Ticket; and while we wait, with ticket or not, we are forced to toil and sweat for our meager rations, and all our deeds are marked in The Ledger Book In The Sky, credited or debited according to the Laws posted at the station; and before it is at last our time to depart on the Bus To The Sky, the conductor will make us account for everything in that Ledger; and if we have not acquired the Ticket, or if the balance sheet does not weigh in our favor, well -- there is another Bus that we must get on instead, one that goes in quite a different direction.
What 'urgency' to preach and to baptize can exist in a 'life' that has no urgency of its own, which fundamentally is no more than a waiting room?
For some former moral theologies, perhaps Dread sufficed -- Yes, we exist in the bus station to Someplace Important, and every one must acquire a Ticket, make the best of our wait, and behave ourselves adequately, lest, when our time to wait is up, we be forced to take the Bus to The Really Unpleasant Place, instead.
However, as we have observed, for covenantal moral theologies, Dread is simply too thin a gruel to sustain the Catholic zeal to preach and to baptize, since (to continue the burlesque) for covenantal moral theologies, when it is time to leave the station, the conductor gives a ticket to all who had not yet acquired one; and then all are free to get on the Bus that they prefer.
Make no mistake: the error of exalting the next life at the expense of this one is a vast improvement over the commonplace opinion, held by much of the world much of the time, that this life is much to be preferred to the afterlife.
For most of the world most of the time, the barrier between the living and the dead has been thought to be far from absolute, but permeable to varying degrees. "When you're dead, you're dead" (there is no existence after death, and as a corollary, therefore the dead can have no influence on or connection to the living) has generally been a minority opinion in the world.
And because whatever existence after death, and hence any connection to the living, occurs "naturally," as a function of how the world works, immersion in the death of the Lord Jesus has nothing to do with our existence after death or our interactions with the dead.
Our connection to the dead being "natural," thus the Eucharist is, at the very least, not our sole connection to the dead. (However, as we have previously pointed out, since the Eucharist is in fact our only connection to the dead, therefore we can have no connection to the damned, who have spit on the Eucharist and been granted their wish to be anywhere but in communion with the Lord and His mother or any of their adopted kin, and thus, though, by our Lord's own testimony, the devil and his demons can still torment us, the damned among men, having definitively refused even the possibility of further communion with us, have zero ability to harm any of the living or indeed to influence us in any way).
On the other hand (as has been the commonplace opinion for much of the world much of the time), our connection to the dead being "natural," the Eucharistic Event is either a mere adjunct to our connection to the dead, whatever that connection may be, malign or benign, or it is functionally irrelevant to it.
Moreover, in much of the world much of the time, the dead (the undistinguished among them, at least) were rarely thought to be at peace, gloriously at rest -- and certainly not abundantly alive, unfailingly benevolent, and in communion with the Lord and His mother and bride, and as their adopted kin, in communion with all the brothers of the Lord living and dead.
Though in certain cultures great dead heroes (though no others) may feast in a great hall after life, often all the dead, often even the most powerful in life, are thought after life to continue a sad, inconsequential existence in a shadowy spirit world.
For much of the world much of the time, the dead may screech and wail and groan. They are restless and roam about, they haunt. Dead ancestors in one's family must continually be remembered, their needs tended to, they may even need to be fed, lest their existence fade, or be entirely extinguished (and thus we lose our access to them and to their aid in our weal and woe, the only ones of the dead who care even a whit about us): a family fire must constantly be kept burning, food and wine brought to them. The dead are potentially malign. They can become angry with us, cause trouble, inflict disease or death, curse, bring bad magic, torment the living.
For much of the world through much of history, that the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God may "rest in peace," was -- still is -- not at all a trite and meaningless banality but an extremely serious and heartfelt prayer.
Christ the power of God has banished so many fearsome things from the world. We know that every single one of the saints who are asleep are alive abundantly, love us not only unflaggingly but also effectively, and are happy in Heaven. So much of the world -- not all, but so much of it -- now takes this for granted, which is a marked departure from much that was the "natural" opinion, before the Cross of Christ.
So there can be no doubt that preferring the next life to this one is a vast improvement over the prior commonplaces of the world. There also can be no Catholic doubt that death, want, disease, hunger, pain, war, scarcity, and the like are elements of fallen existence that grow alongside the wheat.
We do no more than our Lord Himself did, when we beg the Father that such a cup pass from us. And at some times and places we may be able to cut back some of these weeds as best we can.
However, a mistrust of what comes into being and then passes out of being, just for doing that -- devaluing it simply for having the bad taste to exist in time with all of its ravages and dissolutions -- is a pernicious strain in Catholic thought and reflection.
This pessimism is an exaltation of the time-less, and a radical repudiation of history, that could not be less covenantal. It amounts to a denigration of this life as a mere opportunity to be baptized and be freed from original sin, and as a testing ground for the next life.
A persistent theological mistrust of concrete particularity in time is evinced radically not only in the tenacious theological willingness to consider "God" and His (supposed) attributes nonhistorically -- uncovenantally -- not merely separately from Jesus but even with an Olympian disregard for Him whose "whole earthly life - his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking - is Revelation of the Father" [CCC 516, emphasis original]; but also (which is much the same thing) in the corresponding tenacious theological unwillingness to regard the Lord Jesus as a human person as well as a divine person, so much so that to regard Jesus as a human person has been considered grievous heresy.
Thus (the time-less being infinitely superior) the Lord's pre-existence must have been as "a supposedly Trinity-immanent divine Son." It is simply inconceivable that the primordial Son was in fact the Person Jesus, Jesus the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.
To the contrary, as Fr. Keefe points out, the "heresy" is on the other foot; John the evangelist (for instance) could not have been more clear on the point: "The Gospel of John knows only the one Son, Jesus the Christ."
Ignoring the apostolic, liturgical, scriptural and magisterial testimony to the contrary, the bulk of contemporary theologians continue to take for granted that the subject of the Mission of the Son from the Father, and therefore the subject of the Logos sarx egeneto of Jn. 1:14, of Jesus' self-emptying, κνωσις (kenōsis) in Phil. 2:6-7, and finally of the Nicene Creed's σάρκωθέντa (sarkothenta), is not Jesus but the "immanent Son," whose pre-existence consequently cannot be primordial, as Jesus' pre-existence was clearly affirmed to be in Phil. 2:6-7, in Jn. 1:1 and 1:14. Consequently, 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 ]
Covenantal moral theologies are unable, as a matter of method, to mistrust concrete particularity in time, the only way by which the Church knows and worships her crucified and risen Lord.
This life, which is in part a Vale of Tears, but in which every breath of her sons is a delight to Mother Church, is lesser than Heaven, but it is so covenantally, "lesser" only in the same way that the bride is lesser than the Bridegroom. Covenantal authority, dignity, and meaning unfailingly has this quality. As a result, we must say a word here about covenantal subsidiarity.
Some Catholics may be familiar with a "Principle of Subsidiarity" within the oxymoronically-named "Catholic social thought": nothing "should" be done by the Greater that can be done equally as well by the lesser.
Covenantal subsidiarity has nothing whatever to do with this vague, so-called "Principle." Is it a sin to violate this "Principle?" How, specifically, can it be violated?
And the all-important questions: Says who? And by whose authority?
Covenantal subsidiarity, by contrast, does not at all mean that some "lesser" system or being "should" or is "allowed" to perform a task, assume a role, which the Greater could do; it refers to
Covenantal subsidiarity does not imply that unity means equality in every respect. There is no implication that there can be no 'greater' or 'lesser' agent in the union.
Viz., the Father, Who is greater than the Son [Jn 14:28], is the Head, the Source, of the Son, who is the Glory of the Father. The Son is begotten of, proceeds freely from, the Father.
But the Father cannot be the Son, nor do the work of the Son. At all.
Nor can either the Father or the Son be the Holy Spirit or do the work of the Holy Spirit, Who the Father sends in the name and Person of Jesus, the Son.
Yet each of the Persons is equal in majesty, dignity, and authority, and all Three subsist in numerically the same substance.
Indeed, the notion of covenantal subsidiarity (which is entirely our own invention), permits -- endorses -- a matter-of-fact acceptance of inferiority, even of indigence, in covenantal relation; one that is obvious and liturgical and scriptural.
Thus there is absolutely no need to require, or even to search for, equality in covenantal relation -- to require, for example, that Jesus be as great as the Father, when Jesus Himself said the opposite.
For instance, the nuptiality of the New Covenant is not the free unity of the Trinity, but it Images, it resonates with, it echoes, the free union of the Trinity.
And there is no question -- there has never been any question -- that Mary, a created being, is 'lesser' than her Lord. Jesus is the Head of the New Eve, who is His Glory, and as her Head, He is radically unable to be His Glory, who is His mother and bride, or to fulfill the role of His Glory.
It is not a question of whether He 'ought not' be her or fulfill her role: He cannot do so. Just as much as the Son is radically unable to be His Father, the Son is radically unable to be His mother, and the Bridegroom is radically unable to be His bride.
Indeed, Mary can rightly be called co-Redemptrix, since salvation cannot happen without her. This gives the root meaning of extra ecclesiam, nulla salus.
So this life, though "lesser," has been gifted full dignity and meaning in the Eucharist, particularly in the sacrament of Matrimony which Images it:
...by the exercise in it of an authority which not only does not suppress equal authority in others, but actively invokes and requires it.
["Liturgy and Law: The Marital Order of Free Community," Church and State in America: Catholic Questions; Msgr. George A. Kelly, Ed.; ser. Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Proceedings, Fourteenth Convention, Denver, Co., 1991 (Jamaica, NY: St. John's University Press, 1992): p. 1.]
Matrimony Images the Eucharist, which Images the Trinity. Authority is exercised -- gifted -- within a holy subsidiarity in all three. This is authority exercised "which not only does not suppress equal authority in others, but actively invokes and requires it."
Thus covenantal subsidiarity Images the subsidiarity of the Most Holy Trinity. Apropos of our topic, Jesus says both that "the Father is greater than I" [Jn 14:28] and that "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." [Mt 28:18]
As a result of the preceding development, covenantal moral theologies are able to attest that, because of the Eucharist, because the sacraments are real, though this life is "lesser" -- radically historical, existing concretely and particularly in Time and subject to all its ravages and dissolutions -- it is "lesser" covenantally.
For covenantal moral theologies, God created this life and everything in it not only ex nihilo but also covenantally. God is radically unable to be His Creation or to fulfill the role of His Creation. Over us, God exercises "an authority which not only does not suppress equal authority in others, but actively invokes and requires it."
The centuries of torturous theological attempts to define the "divine impassibility" of God -- God's freedom, in other words, particularly in relation to His Creation -- uncovenantally and without reference to Jesus, and then to resolve the self-generated contradictions arising from such an inadequate definition, can thus be seen in a clearer light by covenantal moral theologies, but not only this.
For since Creation is covenantal, then for all the kin of our Lord and our Lady, both heaven and earth are even now "full of your glory."
This life, today, is in no way the indifferent waiting area of a bus station. Nor does this abundant reality exist subjectively, as if we ourselves give it reality by something we do or think or feel and thus that something we do or think or feel can make it disappear, but far rather this life, today, is dignified, rich, important, and meaningful objectively, as a gift in ecclesia far beyond our powers, far beyond even our puny imaginations, in concrete specific radically historical sacramental signs that cause what they signify ex opere operato.
Thus whatever this life was before, after our sacramental Baptism this life is no longer a bus station, in which we must be fundamentally aimless until it is time to be transported Someplace Important.
And since in the Eucharist and the other sacraments flowing from it, this life is covenantally subsidiary to Heaven, nor is this life a mere Stairway To Heaven.
This life is indeed subsidiary to the next life, but this life's subsidiarity to the afterlife is covenantal. As covenantal, this life's dignity, work, and authority cannot be subsumed into, or replaced by, the dignity, work, and authority of the next life: neither can be the other, neither can do the work of the other, yet their dignity, work, and authority are truly unified.
But only by Baptism can we become the brothers of the Lord, and thus, only by Baptism can Mother Church know us as her sons. Once we are baptized and she knows us as her sons, then we know and are known -- in this life, here, right now. We have a personal, Baptismal name that is uniquely ours forever. We begin a kinship history with the Bridegroom and His bride and with all their kin.
Since in Baptism our lives are now fully covenantal, then, right here, right now, we have the ability to eat the One Bread of the One Sacrifice; and, now fully human, our bodies even now are capable of resurrection.
Even as sinful human beings in this fallen world -- as eminently "lesser" -- as long as we remain full kin to the Bridegroom and His bride, as long as we are able to worthily eat the One Bread of the One Sacrifice, we possess in ecclesia a relation of covenantal subsidiarity with Heaven.
This life is indeed "lesser" than Heaven, but just as much as we cannot encompass the dignity and meaning of Heaven or replace the work of Heaven, equally Heaven, by the same covenantal subsidiarity, is absolutely unable to encompass the dignity and meaning of our lives on earth, nor replace our work on earth.
And this is a marvelous thing.
As Baptized, we take the place that is our birthright: we join with the angels in worship, and are in communion not only with our Lord and our Lady and with all their kin all over the world, but also with all our Lord's and our Lady's kin who are asleep.
Because the sacraments are real, as baptized, but only as baptized, we exist, right now, in a relation of covenantal subsidiarity with Heaven itself; and our every breath, our every work, joy, and suffering in this life, while definitely "lesser," are equal in dignity and meaning to the work of Heaven.
Heaven is far greater; but the greatest saint in Heaven cannot subsume or replace your merest breath; he cannot be you, or replace you, or do the work that you do, or replace a single jot of the work that you do.
For Heaven is not only a reward for those who have run the race and remained faithful to the end; it is also a present sacramental reality for all those who worthily eat the One Bread of the One Sacrifice; though, just as was the case for Adam and Eve, this New Eden, this kiss of Heaven and Earth, this full communion, can freely be abandoned, forsaken, until the soul's very last hour on earth.
We have in many previous places developed the idea that the sacramentally baptized are even now, by definition, at every single Mass, in Heaven, if in signo.
What we add in this essay is the notion of covenantal subsidiarity.
For all of us who have been personally and uniquely named in Baptism and thus are brothers of the Lord and sons of His mother and bride, we know and are known as possessing authority and dignity and meaning both unique to us and irreplaceable.
Sinful though we are, not even the greatest saint, not even the highest angel, can replace us, or be us, or replace one bit of the work we do in this life, or say even one of our "Hail Marys."
As named by sacramental Baptism, our Mother knows us as her sons, she can 'find' us; and so, she can dote on our every breath, as she was born to do.
But, in this life, unless we are sacramentally baptized, we simply cannot know and be known in this way. Without Baptism, in this life our dignity and meaning are, strictly speaking, unknown to Mother Church; we are as completely imprisoned in sarx. as far from being made part of the history of the Church's worship, as is mere bread and wine prior to it being Offered and Consecrated and given in Communion.
The stark reality is: in this life, the only way we can be personally named and known, is by sacramental Baptism; only by our sacramental Baptism are we members of the ecclesia, are we gifted with a personal and irreplaceable name, our kinship history with our Lord and His bride and with all their kin living and dead, so that our breaths, our works, prayers, joys, and suffering of this day are in covenantal subsidiarity with the work and prayers of Heaven. In this life, our very breaths are "lesser;" but as sacramentally Baptized, our very breaths now occur in ecclesia, and thus have unique and irreplaceable authority and meaning and dignity.
In this life, without sacramental Baptism, we "groan" in nameless lack; for without sacramental Baptism we are in this life not truly named, not truly known; we are not yet truly a brother of the Lord, a precious son of His Mother, we are not yet truly known in this life as kin to, and welcomed by, all the saints and angels and all who eat the One Bread of the One Sacrifice.
Without sacramental Baptism, we have no personal, Baptismal name; so our Mother cannot 'find' us.
So, unable to 'find' us by name, though we "groan" in depths beyond telling for her to do so, she is unable to dote on our every breath, as she was born to do.
Yet, once we are sacramentally baptized, sinful though we have been, if we remain faithful, if we remain thus known and loved, even if the garden we visit this day is Gethsemane, nonetheless heaven and earth kiss for us as well, this day, literally, concretely, if in signo, and hence we are not alone: an angel may not be able to relieve our suffering in that moment, but he will know our name, and he will still comfort us, and the saints will pray for us unceasingly, and our breaths, even breaths mute and agonized, will still matter, and this day be lifted up and ever remembered on the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
Would any Catholic, understanding this, want even one person to exist, fundamentally nameless, in A Waiting Room Of Life, one second longer than he had to?
Return to The Old Testament in the Heart
of the Catholic Church main page
Return to "Essays Towards a Covenantal Moral Theology"