Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Eucharist as the Church's only ordo theologiae

[Although I already posted this at Philper, and mentioned here the 'response' to it there, I decided to post it here, not only because I figure it's all for the good to increase the number of possible hits "Keefe" and "Covenantal" can get on the Internet, but also because I was graced with an inebriatingly substantive reply by a Mr. O'Sullivan to my review of Covenantal Theology (CT), which inclines me to give these Keefian matters a more central place of their own at FCA.]

The proper and ineluctable ordo of Roman Catholic theology is the Eucharistic covenant as it thrives in the Church. All theological principles and categories must submit to and be subsumed under this one triune matrix of actual, substantial, concrete, and free––because historical––communion in and through the μια σαρχ (One Flesh).

Hence, predestination is a perversion of the Faith if and when it is imagined as belonging to some higher, antecedent ‘cosmic’ order. Predestination is only orthodox when subsumed under the Eucharist. There is no antecedent rational necessity to account for divine predestination, since God’s providence is only truly real in the historically immanent Lordship of the Eucharistic Jesus. There is no higher ‘reason’ for creation and salvation, but this does not mean they are arbitrary and meaningless realities, since the only grounding of them is the free, coherent, historical action of God in the Eucharistic covenant.

People are not predestined according to some cosmic, pre-incarnate decree, but are predestined precisely in the free, actual, historical appropriation or rejection of the New Adam in the Eucharist. There is no supreme natural order that exists prior to creation’s covenantally grounded structure in the triune work of God. The economy of salvation, therefore, does not take place 'in' nature, but rather generates coherence and meaning for nature precisely by virtue of the historically free and objective concreteness of the Eucharist. All existence is grace, although not all existence is equally graced. History, in turn, is not an absolute, prior category of thought or reality, but is a radically and properly theological concept generated in the human consciousness by the concrete immediacy of the Eucharist as the One Sacrifice for all times and all peoples.

As Fr. Donald Keefe says in Covenatntal Theology: the Eucharistic Order of History (pp. 551, 552):

“When, as often, the Platonic resolution of fallenness by its dehistoricization is mistaken for theology, its self-salvific rationalizing thrust finds a pseudo-Christian expression in theories of predestination; these, whether single, as in Origen’s hypothesis of apokatastasis, echoed by Barth’s systematics and, as has been feared, by von Balthasar’s aesthetics, or double, as from Gottschalk to Calvin to the Synod of Dort, are all led by the same conviction that man’s dignity, his moral freedom, must evanesce before the divine omnipotence, and that the truth and reality of the historical human condition is actual only in a union with divinity outside of time, whether in the world of Forms or in an inscrutable divine judgment. … Augustinianism ineluctably relapses into its pre-conversion condition, that of Platonism, when the sacrificial realism of the Catholic Eucharistic tradition is refused or systematically ignored.”

Fr. Keefe notes earlier, on page 535, that the only thing which keeps Augustinianism from relapsing into unreconstructed Platonism, is St. Augustine's radically sacramental consciousness. From page 535:

“…[St. Augustine] sees the fallen consciousness of man to be integrated historically [not ideally or atemporally] in the Eucharist. … [N]othing further is required for the reconstruction of a realistic Augustinian theology of transubstantiation than the systematic exploitation of Augustine’s own equation of the One Sacrifice, the One Flesh of the second Adam and the second Eve, with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for it is the freedom of this union that constitutes its historicity. Only the historical density of the liturgical experience itself is able to ground Augustine’s sacramental theology, and to found an Augustinian theology upon any less concrete and historical ground than the Eucharistic Sacrifice is to ignore once again the free historical foundation for Augustine’s on-going conversion of his Neoplatonism to the Catholic faith. This foundation is the Eucharistic liturgy which was his central responsibility over thee nearly forty years of his episcopacy. To ignore this liturgical foundation is to misconceive Augustine’s theology.

"In Augustinian as in Thomist metaphysics we therefore have to do with the concrete, historical, free and objective relation between the event of the Church’s offering of the bread and wine of the Offertory and the Event-presence of the Christ to the bridal Church as Priest, as Victim, and as semper interpellans. This is simply the historical ordo, the dynamically integrating relations of circumincession which we have seen [in the preceding hundreds of pages] to exist between the event of the Old Covenant, the Event of the New Covenant, and the Event of the Kingdom. It is identically the free and intra-substantial ordering of the Offertory, the Canon, and the Communion; it is the historical ordo of sarx, mia sarx, and pneuma, the ordo of the literal, the allegorical and the anagogical sense of Scripture, and finally, the ordo of the sacramentum tantum, the res et sacramentum and the res tantum, radically of the Eucharist and derivatively of the other sacramanets. This is the free order of objective reality, which is to say, the intrinsic meaning of historical substance, the subject matter of any historical-covenantal metaphysics.”

Fr. Keefe's allusion to Thomistic metaphysics alerts us to the fact that the Eucharistic covenant, as the only real grounds of Catholic theology, poses both a similar challenge to Augustinianism and Thomism (vis-à-vis the former's risk of relapsing into Platonism and the latter's risk of relapsing into Aristotelianism), and a similar buttress against such relapse. On page 558 he says:

“‘Form’ cannot then mean in Augustinian theology what the term Logos has generally been understood to mean whether by Thomists or by Augustinians: viz., the eternal Son in some cosmic moment prior to his becoming man. ‘Form’ in Augustinian theology must refer to the Son of God who is the Son of Mary, ‘one and the same,’ and this not as static [cosmic] fact but as covenantal Event. … However thorough the methodological conversion of theology from cosmological to historical metaphysics may be, we still are very largely under the sway of a cosmological imagination, which simply takes for granted a nonhistorical status quo ante as the prius or starting point for all theological inquiry … [which] conforms to a cosmological but not a Christian quaerens intellectum: it seeks always for the God behind the revelation, convinced that only there may be found the quintessential divinity…. The time-honored notion that it is the nonhistorical and cosmological God behind the revelation that is the object of theology forgets that theology is a quaerens directed solely at the revelation, and that the revelation is not information provided in the Old and New Testament about the eternity and the freedom of God, but rather is the Lord in whom the act of faith ‘terminates,’ Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, ‘one and the same,’ in whom the divine freedom and divine transcendence over history is concretely actual in and by his Eucharistic immanence in history.”

So, even when St. Augustine failed, in various writings or claims, to remain consistent to the sacramental ordo theologiae, which he recognized as paramount, nevertheless it is his fundamental commitment to a “liturgical phenomenology” that can and should correct for his Platonic detours in a stringently Form-based, absolutist predestinarianism.

The vision Fr. Keefe’s places at center is that there is no “world out there” outside the actual, historical Event of the One Flesh being offered triunely. Literally nothing––literally, nihil––exists outside the Event-structure of the Mass. Hence, eternal predestination is coterminous with the historical entry into, or flight from, grace in the Eucharist. The eternal truth that “Christ, the Lamb of God, died for all” is historically coterminous with Christ being received or rejected by all in the Eucharist, as it is offered, historically and actually, to all. Historical worship is thus theologically and Christocentrically antecedent to cosmological predestination. Predestination, in other words, happens now, here, in the Eucharist. Further, because Christ is “pan-historical” by virtue of His covenantal kenosis, as opposed to cosmically “immanent” presence, in fallen humanity, He is transhistorical. His pervasive grounding of history as the arena of grace is what simultaneously makes Him the transcendent Lord of “predestination.” (As for those outside the reach of formal Eucharistic worship, Fr. Keefe’s notes how the trahi a Deo in St. Thomas's thought and the Lumen mundi in St. Augustine's, provide the grounds for personal culpability, since, in any case, original sin is already present, metaphysically but not temporally, in fallen human existence.)

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