The Kenosis Continues

Worth Repeating Wednesday – This post originally appeared on May 18, 2014

Gustave Doré – The Temptation of Jesus

Gustave Doré – The Temptation of Jesus

At the university which boasts the motto Veritas, there were some interesting developments recently. On May 9th, it was announced that the NY-based Satanic Temple, under the auspices of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, would be holding a “Black Mass” on the university campus for the purpose of “exploring other cultures.” The club which proposed to sponsor this event is student-led, and once the news of its happening was made public, the university and its administration were quick to separate themselves from this debacle. They were equally as rapid, however, in their defense of the organization’s right to exercise freedom of expression. The Harvard Extension School, for example, issued the following statement on May 9th.

Students at the Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests. The Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely. (The entire statement can be found here.)

Similarly, President Drew Faust – insert Goethean pun here – issued the following statement on May 12th.

The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding. (The entire statement can be found here.)

Much to her credit, President Faust refers to this proposed gathering as unequivocally “abhorrent,” “disrespectful and inflammatory.” She also stated that she planned on attending a Eucharistic Holy Hour at nearby St. Paul’s Parish as a sign of “respect for the Catholic faith”, which she did, in fact, do. That the very nature of a “Black Mass” is to parody the Catholic Mass, and is therefore highly offensive to Catholics, was stated, inter alias, by the pastor of St. Paul’s Parish, Fr. Michael Drea: “There is no way to misunderstand a Satanic act that degrades the Catholic liturgy. There is no misunderstanding; it is just a fact.”

After much protestation, including statements from Cardinal Seán O’Malley and a Eucharistic procession from MIT to St. Paul’s Parish, the event was canceled and reportedly moved to an undisclosed private location off-campus.

It is an easy task to note the duplicity of a university at once condemning an act and yet providing a space for its occurrence. Though it was later refuted by Robert Neugeboren, the dean of students and alumni affairs at Harvard Extension School, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple initially stated that the organization had obtained a consecrated host for the event.

While reflecting upon these sad events as they unfolded, I could not help but recall the great Kenotic Hymn contained in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even unto death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

This hymn, which NT scholars agree pre-dates the composition of the epistle, affirms that Christ’s essence (μορφῇ) is with the Father. But rather than selfishly cling to his divine existence, the Son emptied himself (ἐκένωσεν) in order to adopt a human nature. The Son submitted to the will of the Father completely and entirely; accepting this unnatural condensation “even unto death on a cross.”

While it may be the reflective reaction of the Christian to be repulsed by the recent events at Harvard, – and rightly so! – let us remember that this is yet another instance of Christ submitting himself to the human condition. Surely we need to be witnesses against the offensive and sacrilegious nature of such events, as many members of the local Church in Boston recently were. But it should also deepen our own humility. It should remind us that Christ has made himself vulnerable to the world every day and everywhere since the moment of his conception. He has held nothing back from his embrace of the human person. In short, the recent events at Harvard are simply another instance of Jesus’ kenosis. And if we are to be his disciples, we too need to make ourselves vulnerable to those whom we love and serve. “No servant is greater than his master” (Jn 15:20).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

A Peek Behind the Veil

The word “revelation” has its roots in a Latin word (revelatio) which means “to draw back” (re-) the “veil” (velum). Often we associate this word with the person who has gained knowledge. He or she has discovered something which was always present but unknown; like a tropical island or a chemical element. But what distinguishes a revelation from a discovery is that the latter can be made according to one’s own powers. The discoverer is the active agent in the process of detection. A revelation, on the other hand, needs to be given. It is the giver who is the active agent, who lifts the veil, and who allows the receiver to accept or reject what has been shown.

In today’s Gospel (Jn 10:27-30), Jesus offers his followers a revelation concerning his true identity. His disciples could not have “discovered” this on their own, nor are they compelled to believe what has been revealed. “The Father and I,” Jesus says, “are one” (Jn 10:30). It is difficult to describe, in both scope and depth, what this one little sentence must have inspired – or perhaps incited – among the Jesus’ Jewish audience. The Gospel states that at least some persons who were present “picked up rocks to stone him” (Jn 10:31). Indeed, to an audience accustomed to praying the Shema – “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” (Dt 6:4) – this statement would approach the height of self-aggrandizing sacrilege. But Jesus neither recoils at the threat of stoning, nor demurs from the accusation of blasphemy. Rather, he confirms his previous statement by adding that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38). In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples, if you will, a “peek behind the veil”; a glimpse of his identity which will only be known after his Resurrection and through the gift of the Spirit.

Christ Pancrator

Christ Pantocrator (mid-6th cen.) St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

This revelation of Christ’s personhood is not a matter of abstract dogma, or of learning a fact like so much other data available to us in this “Information Age.” The demons “know” that Jesus Christ is Lord (e.g., Mk 1:24), and yet they revile him. Jesus’ mission of salvation is an embrace of the human person. He conquered death so that we might come to him and receive new life. As St. Paul writes: “the Son of God…has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:20; emphasis added). Nothing could be of greater importance for me, for my present life and eternal destiny, then Christ’s true identity. For if he and the Father are one, if he has conquered death, and if I am united to him as member of his body, then I too can proclaim: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55; cf. Hos 13:14).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.