HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHRIST AND THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHRISTIANS
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." Phil. 2:5
We can advance yet farther in our search for unity. We have shown that the unity of theology is Christ. We are now going to show that it is Christ's consciousness, His human consciousness.
But some preliminary clarifications are necessary, because Modernists have likewise spoken of dogma as a consciousness, and the notion of consciousness is more complex than it appears at first sight. In this matter particularly the present work rejects the modernist error; but we do not intend to reject the error by running away from it. If arguments are to reach an adversary, they must take up the challenge of his denial, and should not be afraid to employ concepts and terms used by him.
Truth and error are not separated by a no-man's land which is neither the one nor the other and which prudence would urge us to shun. On the contrary, truth and error touch along their whole course. Truth advances up to error all the way, but no farther; to stop short of that limit, if only to remain at a safe distance, would be to fall into error and to stamp as false what is still true. Everywhere, but especially when in dangerous territory, truth must suppress any tendency to excessively anxious precautions that would make systems swerve to keep from skirting a possible abyss. If the systems are true, they will shun the peril by themselves; for truth of itself, without any need of our apprehensions and our stratagems, has the resources to avoid conversion into error.
The effective tactic is to pay no attention to error, except for the purpose of bringing to light and of firmly recovering the ideas and words which error has presumptuously appropriated. Verum iudex sui et falsi: truth, just by being truth, is the refutation of error.
Accordingly we must define consciousness. The notion is not as simple as it may appear to be at first sight. Its hasty identification with the deeper reaches of sensation or with coenesthesia or with the contents of empirical consciousness is an over-simplification. Such conceptions open the way to confusion without end.
Consciousness in general is a possession of oneself in oneself, an immanence of all that a person is in all that he is, a perfect identity of being with himself, a manner of being whereby a person exists in himself and for himself, so that not existing for oneself is the same as not existing at all. In a word, it is a way of existing fully.
Thus the notion of consciousness is connected with the notion of being. A being is knowable and knowing in the measure that it is in act. To be conscious, then, is the same as to be. But it is such by being so powerful that in virtue of it a person is himself for himself and possesses his own proper being in himself merely by being. Nonconscious beings are unaware of themselves, and they forever remain strangers shut off from themselves.
This close connection with being shows how consciousness can have the first place in knowledge: it is first inasmuch as knowledge is an apprehending by a knowing subject, a possessing by that subject. For two aspects are distinguishable in knowledge: the act of grasping elicited by the subject, and the object that is grasped. In virtue of the first aspect, knowledge is subjective and interior, a personal thing terminating in the person; in virtue of the second, it is essentially objective, an apprehension of being as being.
The more perfect knowledge is, the more these two aspects tend toward complete identity. But one always supposes the other. Knowledge of being, hence true knowledge, is impossible without self-knowledge. For, as long as there is no knowledge of self, the knower is unaware of himself from every point of view, and therefore is unaware of himself in his very act of knowing. The converse is also true: genuine consciousness, true knowledge of oneself, is impossible without true knowledge of being as being. If anyone does not know his own person as a being, he cannot claim to know it as it is, and therefore cannot claim to know it at all.
Because of its close connection with being and with knowledge, consciousness is analogous, just as being and as knowledge are. Accordingly there will be as many different types of consciousness as there are different types of being.
As there is only one Being that exists fully, there is only one that is fully conscious. Since He is Being without limit, He knows, simply by knowing Himself, all other beings in all their being. On this level consciousness implies but only on this highest level, by identity the supremely objective and eminent knowledge of everything. Therefore identity of a being with himself by no means prevents him from expressing in himself all the rest precisely as the rest.
Immediately below God are the angels. They exist fully on the plane of their forms, but not on the plane of their act of existence. Hence they are fully conscious of their forms, but not of their act of existence. Therefore something remains unexplained for an angel, namely, his very being.
Man does not exist fully either on the plane of the act of existence or on that of form. The individual has existence only by receiving it from God. Moreover, the human individual is not humanity. Or rather, to express the whole tenor of the paradox in a word, the human individual is not the human universe. He is part of a whole that has given him place in the world and supplies him with his energies, his matter, his experiences, his very life. Without all this he would be nothing; and yet he is not it. The universe is outside of him, the infinite Being is immeasurably above him; nevertheless man, in himself, is what he is only in unceasing dependence on these two that are not he. Cut off from them, he would no longer be himself, he would no longer be anything at all; and he is in himself only by being with them and in virtue of them. (1) (Cf. St. Thomas, De anima, q. un., a. 17 ad 10.)
The same paradox recurs in man's consciousness. To be aware of himself, he must at the same time be aware of these others without which he would not be himself. In its very immanence and inwardness, his consciousness is the product both of the transcendent Being from whom it comes and of the external universe whereby it lives.
Man is too poor to suffice completely for himself. At every moment his being is composed of forces and elements derived from the universe, and at every moment his existence is absolutely and totally dependent on the pure Act. Hence his being is in their possession before becoming his. The same is true of his consciousness: to be his consciousness and to express him, it must at every moment express other beings through whom he is what he is. In fact, since he exists through them, his consciousness must express them before it expresses him: either. the empirical light of the act focuses on them before focusing on him, as is the case with his knowledge of the universe, or the absolute value of the affirmation directly envisages the Other before falling back on him, as is the case with his knowledge of God. (2) (St. Thomas, In I Sent., d.3, q.4, a.5, has several lines that suggest the same thought without directly expressing it.)
The term "consciousness" must be clearly understood. Consciousness can signify the person who expresses himself, and also this same person as expressed by himself. It can mean the expression thus formulated, and can also mean the faculty, or rather the aspect of the faculty or even the act, by which this expression is formulated.
According as we understand the word in one or other of these senses, we may say that one or several consciousnesses, one or several egos, are found in Christ. Since Christ is but one person, there is in Him only one consciousness, one ego, one subject that is the point of departure of all His acts and is the ultimate terminus of attribution. Consequently there is only one who is conscious in Christ. But since this one who is conscious has two natures and two intellects, He has also two powers of saying "I," and in this sense He has a twofold consciousness. Each of these powers forms in Him a notion, or the equivalent of a notion, representing the "I," and thus Christ has two ways of expressing "I" or two expressions of consciousness.
The consciousness of Christ to be considered here is that belonging to Him as the first principle in the supernatural order, as the principle of unity in Christian teaching, as mediator; that is, the consciousness He has as man: His human consciousness. Since His human nature is complete, it has to possess this power of complete reflection or consciousness, without which man would not be an intellectual being.
In Christ, this consciousness had to possess unique characteristics, for He was man in a unique way. As was mentioned in the preceding chapter, He united and recapitulated the whole of Christian teaching in His humanity. To express Him, therefore, and to be a true consciousness in Him, His consciousness had to express this entire doctrine. Is not the man Jesus Christ primarily characterized by the fact that His humanity is that of the Son, that He is God who became incarnate and was crucified for us, that He is what Christian teaching says He is, that He is the mediator between God and man? Does not His human consciousness first of all have to express this to Him, and is not His human consciousness the doctrine taught by Christianity?
To express Christ, the consciousness of Christ had to express the whole of Christianity which is summed up in Him, is complete in Him, and reaches its zenith in Him. It expressed Christianity in a most simple and adequate manner, because Christ's humanity was already in possession of its ultimate end, and was the humanity of the God-man. Accordingly this consciousness was the perfect unity of Christian teaching. Christ's humanity, by its very nature, is that unity in the order of being; it is also the unity in the order of knowledge.
We said above that consciousness is the first intelligible in every man and with reference to him. In the whole of mankind, therefore, the consciousness of this Man who is the unity and center of all mankind is the first intelligible with reference to men.
We shall have occasion to speak frequently of Christ's consciousness, and we shall point out that it is most human, since it is the consciousness of a man, and at the same time most divine and quite impossible without grace, since it expresses God. Hence we need not delay over that truth here. But before going on, we should pause before this tabernacle, where God Himself speaks to man in a Man. Ever since Eden, the marvel of revealed religion is that God deals with man in a way that is completely fitting and completely human. Thus in the fullness of time, when God chose to speak to all mankind, He did not ensconce Himself on some remote, inaccessible Sinai. On the contrary, He draws near, He enters, He descends to us, we may almost say He loses Himself among us, so closely does He unite Himself to those He teaches. From the midst of men He singles out a Man to be the center and the recapitulation of the race, and in the inmost part of this Man, in the intellect which is the very center of man, in the consciousness which is the center of the intellect, He deposits His truth. There He places it, not to be an alien accretion like a seed or a foreign body, but to be a necessary constituent and an essential activity of that unique consciousness, and to proclaim itself in the very act in which this unique God-man asserts Himself even as man.
God did not become man by half-measures. Gently, delicately, He follows our course with us. The eternal light flashes forth; or rather, since nothing equals it in softness and tenderness, it dawns in the intellect, which is the manifestation of man in man.
If Christians are members of Christ, they must, in the degree proper to members, be what He is as head. The primacy Christ possesses in the order of unity, intelligibility, and the grasp of knowledge that develops within consciousness, He transfers to His members; for He communicates Himself to them in such a way that they, living His life, become sharers of His primacy.
This statement evidently lacks meaning unless we admit the doctrine of the mystical body in a realistic sense, unless we admit that the Christian, as a Christian, is intrinsically and ontologically a member of Christ and that he is such in the innermost essence of His Christian being. The present book is based on this supposition.
Christians, then, as Christians, are Christ's members. As such, they are definable only in terms of Christ; and Christ, as we have said, is definable only in terms of the totality of Christian teaching. Therefore Christians, too, are definable only through this totality. To know themselves, they need this totality; and on the other hand, since they are spiritual beings, they must know themselves and be conscious. Hence we must conclude that Christian teaching expresses the consciousness they have of themselves as Christians.
What is this consciousness? It is clearly something wholly unique, sui generis, and must possess the unique characteristics which theology recognizes in supernatural knowledge. What does this imply? The Christian, formally as a Christian, is a member of Christ, that is, of the Word, who is the Son of the Father and the co-principle of the Holy Spirit. The Christian lives as a member of that sacramental reality which is the Church. He lives in an immense redemption. He is made and animated by all that is expressed in the doctrine of Christianity. To express himself to himself, he must express this whole doctrine.
The necessity of this consciousness in the Christian is made clear by the following considerations.
The consciousness of Christians must be of a special kind. The Modernists, as we remarked above, also affirmed that supernatural knowledge is at bottom a consciousness. But by consciousness they meant an interior impression, a sort of sensible consciousness, rather than an intellectual consciousness. Following Kant, they held that the intellect is imprisoned in the world of phenomena: it can know nothing of the Absolute, of God. But, they added, as Kant had done before them in speaking of the postulates of the will, in the sphere of sentiment the intellect has a confused but persistent impression that such realities must exist. It does not know them, but it does yearn for them: it is harassed by a thirst for the ideal, a nostalgia for the infinite and the divine, a need of aspiring. Being essentially rational, man necessarily expresses this indefinable attitude of his soul in rational utterances which are its symbol and which account for religious formulas. Thus, according to them, are born those beautiful and inimitable pronouncements, those Christian and Catholic formulas that are called dogmas.
We need not here pass judgment on this conception in its entirety; anyone can perceive the agnosticism, that is, the suicide, to which it entices the intellect and religion. It is clearly poles apart from our own conception. The following points will suffice to indicate succinctly the essential differences.
A person is conscious in his own personal way; a member of Christ, as such, is conscious in the way befitting a member of Christ. A man is a member of Christ by being attached to Christ; his consciousness will be in him as continually received, just as his quality as a member is continually received. But this reception, as we indicated above, must be both interior and exterior; it must be a reception of interior light and a reception of formulas. The two are complementary: the formulas lead us into the light, and the light imparts meaning to the formulas. Accordingly the interiority here in question is not that which man, as man, has in him, but is that which, as a member of Christ, he has in the transcendent God.
With regard to its characteristics, this consciousness must be both free and restricted. It must be free, because attachment to Christ is not brought about against one's will; it must be restricted, because, once the attachment is effected, consciousness does no more than affirm the attachment.
Further, this consciousness will be clear and mysterious: clear, because it manifests to a member what he is; mysterious, because a member is what he is by attachment to Him who in Himself is mystery and transcendence.
It will be both unchangeable and capable of being lost, assured and uncertain, gratuitously infused as a grace and absolutely indispensable in the hypothesis of supernatural elevation.
It will also be essentially personal because the life of the spirit is such, and essentially dependent, social, and ecclesiastical, because this life is imparted by incorporation into Christ and hence by incorporation into the immense unity of those who live the life of Christ.
Lastly, this consciousness will be essentially divine and essentially human. It will be essentially divine because it exists only in union with God and to express that union. It will be essentially human because it exists in man and exists to express to man what is henceforth best in him. Accordingly it is theocentric, anthropocentric, and Christocentric. It is all this together, and each aspect has its place; for in His own unity Christ effects in man the unity of all that is human with the whole of divinity.
Because of Christ and our incorporation in Him, the doctrine of Christianity, as a message about God, a theological message, is not at all a collection of formulas imposed on our memory in a system that is coherent though cold. It is, we may say, ourselves: the life of us who know, springing up in us from the living God.
To be our own, this supernatural knowledge must come to us from God. In giving it to us, God deals with us as a mother would deal with her child. The child is as yet too young to express its confused thoughts to itself and to others. The child tries to speak, falters, and bursts into tears. Then the mother catches it up in her arms, gazes into its eyes, and speaks to it, slowly, using the child's own language. Between mother and child there is so great a resemblance, so close a tie, so much love, that she divines what it is trying to say but cannot; nothing is so perfectly the language of this child as the language issuing from the heart of the mother. This is what God lovingly does for His children on earth. Through His bounty, they have treasures in their souls which they will never be able to express, but which they ought to express since they are spiritual beings. Then God, using human words, the only words His little ones understand, describes to them the marvelous beings they have become. What He tells them is what their very nature as members strives to tell them, so much is it their own, but does not succeed, so amazing is the beauty. God awakens the consciousness they have as members by illuminating it with the only light that is suitable; and that is the light of the sun.
But God's loving care goes much farther than a mother's. The mother tells the child what the child is half able to express, and what it will soon be completely able to say. But God tells us, and gives us power to express, what we, left to ourselves, could never in any way say or be. And though His generosity is unlimited, it is perfectly adapted to the one who is to express his thoughts. It is even more than this. God knows much better than a mother what he has and what he makes over to His children, and with far greater love He is able to find the words that awaken understanding. His voice is perfectly the voice of our divinized nature, for our divinized nature is His.
F. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHRISTIANS AS THE UNITY OF DOGMA AND THE FIRST INTELLIGIBLE
In this conception, the Christians consciousness may be said to be the unity and the first intelligible of Christian truth. It is such because Christ is such.
Christians truly possess all that is needed to understand mysteries in the measure in which they are understandable here below: aliqua, Deo dante, mysteriorum intelligentia e mysteriorum ipsorum nexu inter se. This is because Christians, by the grace of God, are products of mystery, as Christ is; they are products of mystery in their faculty of comprehension, in their act of understanding, and in their consciousness which, like all that they are, is from Christ and in Christ. The nexus between mysteries that is accomplished in Christ is also accomplished in them as far as they are His members and as far as He unites Himself to them in the substance of their souls where their being is joined to Him and in those intimacies whose voice is their consciousness.
Thus the unity of the whole Christ, which pervades all Christian teaching, also pervades the entire Christian organism that accepts it on faith. This unity is the reason why each dogma in its own way expresses the whole doctrine, for in its own way it expresses Christ. The same unity is the reason why every Christian and his consciousness, in constituting the whole Christ in the manner proper to members, likewise constitute the unity of doctrine and its totality in the manner proper to members. Thus the objective unity of supernatural knowledge corresponds to its subjective unity.
"Thou art the Master teaching most secretly in the school of the heart." St. Augustine, Confessions, IX, 9
The task of theology is to reduce everything to the first intelligible, which is Christ and His consciousness. "To reduce" means, etymologically, to lead or bring back. Accordingly our purpose is to bring everything back to Christ as to a more perfect unity.
The physicist reduces everything to a first intelligible in his science, that is, to equations. Our endeavor in this work is similar. We propose to show how all knowledge of supernatural truths is reduced to the knowledge Christ has of Himself, both in Himself and in His members, and to the knowledge His members have of themselves as members. We wish to make clear how all Christian truths are connected with the truth of the whole Christ.
The rational expression of such a study will resemble the technical expression of other sciences; it will involve reflection, comparison, reasoning, and the like. Yet it will have its own characteristics, the first and most essential of them being an undeviating orientation toward Christ.
The physicist, while pursuing his investigations, is obsessed with his formulas. Similarly the theologian, as theologian, ought to be wholly wrapped up in Christ. In all his ponderings he should see only Christ: omnia et in omnibus Christus. Since Christ is a mystery, we shall be tracing all other mysteries back to a mystery when we trace them back to Him in our effort to comprehend them. Therefore our understanding of them will be mysterious, and will remain obscure and a source of humiliation for us even in the satisfaction and light it confers. We can gain no more than aliqua mysteriorum intelligentia.
This conceptual reduction to Christ, outwardly expressed in scientific formulations, is the expression of a living reduction of Christian thought that lives by the living consciousness of Christ. For knowledge is life: cognoscere cognoscentibus est esse. Supernatural knowledge is life at its fullest; it is eternal life: "This is eternal life, that they may know" (John 17:3).
To reduce our knowledge to Christ and His consciousness, to share by union in the understanding, certitude, and clarity possessed by Him, we must lead our minds back to Christ, we must think in terms of surrender, adherence, and insertion into Him: "To believe is nothing else than to think with assent." (3) (St. Augustine, De praedestinatione sanctorum, 5 (PL, XLIV, 963). Faith, as participation in Christ, has its source of life and light in that participation, through Christ.
Therefore to believe with a faith that is thought and adherence, with the full consent of the heart joined to the clear thinking of the mind, is the primary condition for reduction to Christ. Such is the faith by which we forget ourselves and consecrate ourselves to God and to our fellow men in charity. It is a faith animated by a considerate love, in union with the Lord, a faith that rejoices to think in the Lord. When we have that faith, we judge as He would have judged, we evaluate as He would have evaluated, we say what He would have said. Above all, we resay what He actually said, and what He says still in Scripture and the Church, like Mary, who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
Thus we reduce ourselves and our thoughts to the thoughts and consciousness of Christ. Or rather, it is He who draws us to Himself. He is the one who makes us one; He is the life that upholds those who live by that life: "The peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). The activity needed to achieve such reduction is cooperation with Christ's work, and indeed is its effect, so long as it is good; all the vigor of the vine-branch comes from the trunk. "The members of Christ must understand, and Christ must understand in His members, and Christ's members must understand in Christ; for head and members are one Christ." (4) (St. Augustine, In ps. LIV (PL, XXXVI, 629).
The initiative comes from Christ. And we must leave the initiative and the priority to the first intelligible and its spontaneity, since this is consciousness, and consciousness is by nature free. How could activity that is exercised from without be successful in dealing with something that is purely interior? Christ's consciousness, the first principle in supernatural intelligibility, must be the first principle in the act of understanding. Free with a liberty that is one with the first cause and that is absolute liberty, it must freely intervene in our comprehension of the supernatural, by initiating and giving the very act of understanding. (5) (The Council of Orange, can. 5, teaches that not only every increase of faith, but its beginning and the very desire to believe, are gifts of grace. Cf. Denz., 178.)
Theological science, like every human science, is essentially incomplete. Everything in it tends to a clarity that nothing in it can furnish. Other sciences may come to a halt when they have said their last word. Theology has to end in silence. "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth" (I Kings 3:10). Its final step is to lead us to the Master, who remains always the unique Master, the only one who speaks within at the same time that He instructs from without.
C. REDUCTION TO THE CHRISTIAN AND TO HIS CONSCIOUSNESS AS MEMBER
Christ speaks to His members through the nature they have as members. The explanation of Himself in His own consciousness comes to them through their consciousness, so far as this is a consciousness belonging to them as members. Accordingly reception of this full, interior explanation is not beyond their powers of interiorly receiving a whole.
To set forth all that is implied in such reduction to the consciousness of Christ, we must speak of a reduction to the consciousness of Christ's members. To bring a truth to the consciousness of a Christian is the same as to concentrate and reflect on this truth as far as it expresses Christian life and is clarified by that life, and actually to be, as intensely as possible, what it requires of Christians. This amounts to saying: to be a child of God, a member of Christ, a brother to all men, so that the conformity between such an attitude and the basic life of the soul may serve as a personal verification of the doctrine, which is in this way unified.
But as Christians are members of Christ by attachment to Christ and to God, the witness thus borne by their Christian nature comes to them through their attachment to Christ and to God. Hence this testimony can confer on the act of the man receiving it a firmness surpassing human firmness. The possibility of being unified and established in this consciousness as members comes from the inner unity of that consciousness, a unity resulting from attachment to, and participation in, the consciousness and unity of Christ.
Everything in that consciousness is unity, everything is the same: the act of thinking, the truths adhered to, the aspect of these truths that induces adherence, the motive for which adherence is given, and the promulgation of the truths leading to adherence. At first sight, and looked at from without, all these factors appear to differ; but when they are attentively and thoroughly examined, they are seen to come together in Christ and in His members.
The act of thinking is an act of adhering, of believing. But this act, as such, is an act of a cognitive faculty and of a nature that exist in adherence and attachment; it is the actuation, in the order of knowledge, of what this manner of existing is in the order of being. Therefore it is the expression, under the form of knowledge, of that which, in the reality of things, is the gift of God to men in Christ.
The truths to which this act adheres are the same; for they are dogmas, and dogmas express Christ and the donation of God to all men in Christ. The aspect of these truths that induces adherence is likewise the same. For this aspect is the fact that the truths are communicated and revealed by God Himself in Christ. This revelation is the same donation of God to men in Christ.
The motive for which adherence is given is the authority of God who reveals. But this very authority of God, which of itself guarantees only the acts of God Himself, establishes an intellectual attitude in the mind of man because it is communicated; and it is communicated through God's donation of Himself in Jesus Christ.
Lastly, the promulgation of these truths through the Church, as considered in its mysterious totality, is still this same donation of God, this revelation of God by God. For in the Church, which is the continuation of Christ, it directly reaches all souls.
Thus the intellectual attitude actuating the consciousness of Christ's members is in itself perfectly one, just as the activity that expresses the life of the spirit ought to be one. And this attitude merely expresses in the cognitive order what the Christian character is, for what makes men Christians is the same donation of God. In this attitude, which is complete unity, the Christian can achieve perfect unity and can find the inner consistency, the peace and intellectual satisfaction, the determinatio ad unum, which is certitude.
All this may be anthropocentrism, but it is also Christocentrism and therefore in the last analysis theocentrism.
This reduction to the member's consciousness is not entirely an individual operation. When the Christian undertakes it and attempts to enter into himself and his consciousness as a believer, to find in his faith the immovable rock, he communes with himself in God and Christ; or rather, God, in Christ, brings him to commune with himself; for in Christ the whole mystical body of Christ enters into such communion, whenever the act of knowledge is exercised. Does not any living being instinctively and characteristically gather itself together and tense itself when it is going to spring forth? Such is the action of Christ in His body, such is the action of that organism of living light which is the body of Christ when the act of knowledge is exercised; for knowledge is life, and the light of knowledge is also life.
Accordingly this reduction to Christ is also a reduction to God; God alone is the ultimate goal. Thus we see once more that God alone is the formal object and the subiectum of theology. But God is wholly in Christ.
At the same time this reduction has its starting point and runs its whole course in every man: Christ is the way, Christ in us. All the members of Christ have a right to a part in it and a capacity to understand His doctrine through it. Not all have a mind sufficiently subtle and trained to engage in scientific theology; but all have what is required to engage in the living theology that is here in question. They have the capacity in the same way as they have their being and their power to understand; for they are created, by a second creation, in Jesus Christ. Like all theologians, they will have such power of understanding only by believing. They will have it in their reason, evidently, but their reason will have it because, in the act of believing, reason will perceive that belief is good for reason, the reason of a member of Christ.
Emile Mersch: The Teaching of Philosophy on Man and his Unity
Emile Mersch: The Perfecting of Christ's Human Nature by the Incarnation
Emile Mersch: Theological Theory