Christology and human relationality
by Ken Myers
On Volume 159, Andrew Kaethler discussed his book The Eschatological Person: Alexander Schmemann and Joseph Ratzinger in Dialogue. One of the themes in the book is the link between the essentially relational nature of human personhood and the relation between divine and human natures in the person of Christ.
One of the texts that influenced Kaethler’s understanding of this fact is Joseph Ratzinger’s Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (The Catholic University of America Press, 1977, 1988). In the closing paragraphs of Part 2 of this book, we read the following:
“[T]the determinative starting point of the Christian understanding of immortality is the concept of God, and from this it draws its dialogical character. Since God is the God of the living, and calls his creature, man, by name, this creature cannot be annihilated. In Jesus Christ, God’s action in accepting humanity into his own eternal life has, so to speak, taken flesh: Christ is the tree of life whence we receive the food of immortality. Immortality cannot be accounted for in terms of the isolated individual existent and its native capacities, but only by reference to that relatedness which is constitutive of human nature. This statement about man returns us once again to our image of God, throwing light as it does so on the Christian understanding of reality at its central point. God too possesses immortality, or, more correctly, he is immortality, being that actuality of relationship which is Trinitarian love. God is not ‘atomic’: he is relationship, since he is love. It is for this reason that he is life. In this perspective, the relationship of two people which is human love shines with the radiance of the eternal mystery. The signal we derive from this view of being tells us: relation makes immortal; openness, not closure, is the end in which we find our beginning. . . .
“[P]art of the Christian idea of immortality is fellowship with other human beings. Man is not engaged in a solitary dialogue with God. He does not enter an eternity with God which belongs to him alone. The Christian dialogue with God is mediated by other human beings in a history where God speaks with men. It is expressed in the ‘We’ form proper to the children of God. It takes place, therefore, within the ‘body of Christ,’ in that communion with the Son which makes it possible for us to call God ‘Father.’ One can take part in this dialogue only by becoming a son with the Son, and this must mean in turn by becoming one with all those others who seek the Father. Only in that reconciliation whose name is Christ is the tongue of man loosened and the dialogue which is our life’s true spring initiated. In christology, then, theology and anthropology converge as two strains in a conversation, two forms of the search for love. In all human love there is an implicit appeal to eternity, even though love between two human beings can never satisfy that appeal. In Christ, God enters our search for love and its ultimate meaning, and does so in a human way. God’s dialogue with us becomes truly human, since God conducts his part as man. Conversely, the dialogue of human beings with each other now becomes a vehicle for the life everlasting, since in the communion of saints it is drawn up into the dialogue of the Trinity itself. This is why the communion of saints is the locus where eternity becomes accessible for us. Eternal life does not isolate a person, but leads him out of isolation into true unity with his brothers and sisters and the whole of God’s creation.”