Sunday, December 9, 2007

Liccione on Oakes on the Immaculate Conception…

It doesn't get any better than this.

One of my favorite bloggers, Michael Liccione, does a précis of an article by one of my favorite Jesuits, Fr. Edward Oakes, on my favorite Mother, our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. A threefer!

The money quote in Liccione's post, "Our solitary boast", is here:

Christ's human will freely chose to suffer and die—even though that, along with the Incarnation itself, had been eternally, unalterably, and in that sense necessarily decreed by the Trinity, and therefore by the person of the Son, who is solely and identically the person who is and acts as Jesus Christ. The retroactive causality of the Passion on Mary, in the form of making her kecharitomene beginning with the IC, was simply the way she was similarly decreed to enjoy a pre-eminent capacity to have and exercise the kind of freedom her Son did in undergoing the Passion. The grace with which she was filled at the IC was not, then, an overriding of her human freedom, but was rather a necessary condition for exercising the kind of freedom her Son was to exercise as a man and which made her own possible. That's the kind of freedom she was to exercise by consenting to the Incarnation.

My own thoughts on the matter are:

If I were to parse the article Liccione linked about St. Maximus vis-à-vis the IC, I might say this:

As humans, both our Lady and our Lord had a natural human will. Both of them had sinless tropoi, which is why they both were free from the gnomic will (which I will here assume is roughly like the idea of concupiscence). Their common natural will is due to the order of creation. Their freedom from a gnomic will is due to their properly ordered tropoi. The difference is that Mary's holy tropos (as the personal mode of her natural will) was provided by grace based on the utterly free dytheletic holiness of Christ's wills. She was afforded the freedom to imitate His tropic holiness by virtue of His tropic freedom of sacrifice to redeem man. What Christ did "naturally" as God, Mary was enabled to do by a grace that freed her tropos to will in an immaculate way.

The EO objection I think might be that, if God can give such a good tropos to Mary, why could He, and, worse, did He not give it to all people as well? My first response is that, well, that's the thing about grace: it's a gift, so there's no antecedent reason (law) why it should be dispensed in some other way. Second, though, I sense a deep mystery lies in the fact that Mary was the only person who in fact did tropically live up to the grace, given her at conception, precisely when she spoke her Fiat. It tends back into the causal circle Oakes mentions, and seems to be circular, but it suggests a subtlety beyond my means to articulate at this time (it's late here in Taiwan!) What I am getting at is how, even if thousands of young ladies like Mary were, ex hypothesi, given the grace to live tropically all-holy, only Mary in fact did so, hence "ratifying" the grace infused into her soul before she could ever merit it. It was grace because it preceded all her efforts; it was perfect grace because it was received with perfect love for its source.

Lastly, I will note how the IC seems to be the basis for a lot of good sf. If science could rise only in a Christian context (Jaki, Duhem, Hooykaas, et al), then I think a fortiori science fiction could arise only in a Christian environment. The head-bending idea of a woman being saved by the son she hasn't even had yet, and of the Son who saved her coming to be only after she bore him, is so rich with potential, that I'm willing to bet a whole slew of time-travel books have been spawned by it, even if unwittingly.

The sf implications of the IC are such that, in the Greco-Roman milieu, it was a concept which may have shattered the pagan fatalism unlike anything else. It is one thing to draw aesthetically from the gods as superhuman sources of potential narrative twists; it is quite something else to break the entire kosmos in which they were all subject to Fate. It was nothing for the pagans to affirm Athena sprang from forehead of Zeus; it was inconceivable (pardon the pun!) that Zeus might spring from the womb of Athena! Mary was the concrete icon of necessity––to which humans and even the gods were, in the end, subject––being broken on the anvil of personal freedom in response to pure gift. For once the heavens were hanging on a word from the earth, rather than earth always cowering in expectation of a lightning bolt from the heavens.

In support of this idea, I will draw from the citation Liccione gives in his latest post, "Elemental Powers", from Pope Benedict XVI's rcent encyclical, Spe Salvi:

…Saint Gregory Nazianzen…says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.

Mother! Whose virgin bosom was uncrossed
With the least shade of thought with sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast.

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