--------------- CHRISTIANITY by Xavier Zubiri ---------------------------------------- Chapter 1 (54-64) ---------------


{54} (cont’d)

D) The reality of Christ. That is precisely the question we are facing: How and in what measure is the reality of Christ, which St. Paul preaches, another wisdom, and another sign? If we ponder on what we have just said, we shall find that the Israelite way, basically the way of the Orient, was a way, which went from person to person. It completely anchored its whole structure on one person, completely trustworthy, but still a person. On the other hand, the Greek way was a way of truth. Nevertheless, there was of course a supreme possibility, which consisted precisely in conceiving that truth is a personal reality, and for a certain person (the person of God) to be the absolute truth, and the absolute reality. In this case, obviously, the concept of wisdom and the concept of sign completely change their sense. And this is precisely what takes place in the reality of Christ.

{55} Consequently, let us think that God is present in an inexorable and real way in the depth of all created reality, in a fontanal way, and additionally in a personal way, without identifying Himself with none of the created realities, but intrinsically belonging to them. Because reality, even though created and distinct from God to the greatest degree, is the terminal point of the divine action, separated from which, created reality would not have any reality at all. It follows that God is in the world as a kind of ocean (sit venia verbo), inside which are the things that, freely, have been created by Him. Of course, this does not mean that God is the same way in the depth of all creatures. In the depth of closed essences He is in one way, let us say, materially fontanal: matter emerges from God. In the depth of open essences, which is what humans are, taken primarily as a historical unity, God is present, but in the form of inter-personal presence. A completely different way. And, in this form of inter-personal relation, the fontanal and personal presence in the depth of each person may have quite different degrees and forms. The way this ocean involves, in one form or another, a certain presence in the spirit of the just, is not the same as the presence involved in the depth of a human spirit, which were not turned positively (for whatever reasons) towards the divinity. It would be a mode of presence completely different. And in the different degrees of justice or sanctity, the presence of God would be more or less intense in the depth of each one of those human spirits1.

Let us elevate the case to the infinite, and assume that in a certain man this subjacent presence of God is so intense {56} that not only it is present, but constitutes the very reality of that in which it is present. That is the case of Christ. That is the hypostatic union. Christ is God, because in a certain aspect of Him there is an identity between His human reality, and the reality of God. And with this presence by way of identity, God, as absolute reason of the universe, acquires the figure of a personal reality in a certain man on the surface of the Earth. The reality of God is, therefore, the synthesis of the two ways: the one of absolute reason, and the one of history. Of absolute reason and history because, in the end, what is here constituting the absolute reason of the universe is one person. And the absolute reason of history, because that certain man, from a particular point and aspect of his (this is not the moment to investigate the point), is identical to the very reality of God. God is not only present in Christ, but constitutes in one form or another the very human reality of Christ.

St. Paul stands facing this type of reality with its unique constitution asking, on the one hand, for personal adhesion, and on the other, posing the problem of the sign.

1) Personal adhesion, obviously, can be none other but the one Christ himself requested during His life. Christ did some things, which were quite extraordinary (I shall immediately refer to this), but He conducted himself in more or less the same way the men of His time conducted themselves, except he did it differently. It is not a question of the few extraordinary things he did, but of the things he did in a different manner. Let us not forget that in the very history of Christianity sanctity does not consist in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well, which is something altogether different. Christ asked for personal adhesion. Certainly, this man was the very reality of God, but this was not transparent to anyone, not {57} even to the apostles. Let us remember that even after the resurrection, the apostles asked Christ: “Is it now when you are going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Not even the resurrection was sufficient to make them understand what Christ was going to realize on Earth. And those who were not His apostles, and before His death, undestood much less. However, he asked precisely for a personal adhesion. And a personal adhesion definitely founded on some signs.

One thinks, of course, about the miracles. What were the miracles of the Gospel? Had these physical realities (so to speak) the characteristics of massive impositions? Did they produce in the human spirit a kind of inclination when facing the derogation of the laws of mechanics? Not at all. There is a passage, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, where we are told about a miracle of Christ, which has all the ingredients a sign must have: the cure of the paralytic (cf. Mt 9:2-8). Here we have all the ingredients of those signs, which constituted the miracles of Christ on Earth.

a) In the first place, an essential condition: faith. Christ never pretended to draw out the personal adhesion by means of miracles thay may consist, for example, in coming down from the cross to provoke the faith. That would not have been a moral adhesion; it would have been something irremediable. This is not what Christ came to elicit. He looked precisely for a faith, which consists not only in having a previous moral disposition towards His person, but also in a disposition capable of accepting and apprehending what is of reality in the depth of the human actions of Christ.

b) In the second place, this text tells us what the characteristic of the prodigy is. The prodigy of Christ took place in order to convince He had the capability to forgive sins. However, to forgive sins is precisely an exclusive attribute of God. Which means that in the end, the prodigy, {58} in this surreptitious and indirect manner, was made just to prove His divinity, but in that trivial form of forgiving sins. Christ has performed no miracles for merely physical reasons, but for a theological truth, different in each case.

c) There is certainly the moment of the prodigy: the paralytic rises up and goes away with his stretcher.

d) And finally, there is a fourth point: the crowds believed in Him, they glorified Him. The text clearly does not say that they believed He was God, but that they glorified God because He had given such power to human beings.

Christ was a man who had an extraordinary power. There resides the essence of what a miracle is. It is an error to think that the miracles constitute, as it is commonly said, a derogation of the laws of nature. Whether they are derogated or not, is a different matter. However, Did any Israelite at the time of Christ have any idea of the laws of nature so that it could be said he perceived the derogation of the same? Does man know the totality of the laws of nature to know if they are derogated or not? It is much more apprehensible through moral reason (sit venia verbo) that a man may have a dominion over nature, which exceeds what nature can perform. It will be said that we do not know what laws are involved there. Yes, but what we definitely do know is that, regardless of whether laws are involved or not, a single word cannot make a paralytic rise, put his stretcher under his arm and walk home. Is is precisely there where the characteristic of the prodigy is. The idea of miracle is not related to nature, but to an idea of the position of man within the universe, and of what the universe is when taken in its totality.

To those signs of the moral order is what St. Paul is referring. And in that case it must definitely be said that the {59} entire life of Christ was precisely a sign. The entire life of Christ was clearly the sign of His divinity, nothing else but sign. And precisely because of this, the personal adhesion of the disciples to Christ was an adhesion of faith.

2) Let us remember that a sign, which reveals a theological reality is precisely what is called a mystery (mystérion). The Latins translated it as sacramentum. In this sense, the life of Christ on Earth is a subsistent sacrament, because His human life means precisely His internal, His intrinsic divinity.

Appropriately, we are now led to consider the problem of the historicity of the events of the life of Christ. Bultmann, for example, has chosen to minimize that historical reality, not because he estimates it can be totally derogated. Certainly, he believes almost everything can be derogated in the “historical” sense of the term: the presence in the Eucharist, the resurrection of Christ, etc. But at least he has had the courage to show that all these realities have a theological dimension. What happens is that a theological dimension unconnected with a historical reality is lost in a vacuum. Actually, the reality of the life of Christ is neither a set of permanent derogations of the laws of nature, nor a simple putting in motion of the stepping march of theological values. It is something different: that reality is precisely the real and effective sign with which the human life of Christ is sign of the theological reality in which He himself personally consists.

That is why thirty-five years ago I wrote that Christ is the subsisting sacrament2. Indeed, the sign par excellence of His divinity was precisely the crucifixion, as we shall see. Be that as it may, it is then clear that the position of {60} St. Paul facing the problem of the credibility of Christ starts precisely from a new vision of truth and reality. From a vision of truth as person at the bottom of reality; that it is personal truth. And, conversely, a vision of an entitative absolute, which has the characteristic of person: the very subsistence of God.

Then one may ask: In what does the encounter of God in the encounter with Christ, really and positively consist for the New Testament?

E) The encounter with God in Christ3. How is God found in Christ? Precisely through a sign. Not even after His resurrection the apostles had a clear comprehension of the formal and personal divinity of Christ. Still, it is not enough to say: “Well, Christ was God, and therefore, to find Christ is to find God”. Because His divinity is just only indicated in the form of a sign throughout His life and actions. However, we have the right to ask if it is the case of an encounter with God, really and effectively concrete and historical, apprehensible in the life of man. We cannot limit ourselves to abstract reasonings. We must apprehend concretely in what this encounter consists, particularly since we have been clearly told that God is person (persona), and that precisely in the personality of Christ is, by way of identity, the personal reality of God.

St. John constantly repeats the phrase “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). And precisely because of this, because God is love, is the reason why man encounters God in Christ, precisely {61} through the way of love. Love is not a vague sentiment here. It is a structure essentially metaphysical. Love is, in the first place, the act to give oneself (and in this case of God giving Himself) in a volitional act, which has no other interest or motive whatsoever. Love is an essentially metaphysical structure: it is the ecstatic aperture of the lover in which he gives himself really and effectively through a volitional act; but also in a pure manner, i.e., solely by pure volition. The ecstasy of pure volition, in its three absolute terms, can only be given in God. And that is why God is love, because He is really, formally, and constitutively an ecstasy of pure volition, and pure intelligence. For this reason, when God gives Himself in the form of creation, He gives Himself only in order to give Himself. For no other personal interest, or any internal or intrinsic necessity. Therefore, to encounter God in Christ is precisely to find Him through the way of love. In man, of course, every love, every effusion, is more or less conveyed by an éros, by a desire. There is nothing good or lovable for man, which in some form does not have the aspect of desirable. But precisely that desirability is nothing but the sign through which man accesses the pure effusion, in which surrendered and possessed by real truth, he really and effectively surrenders to it. And this is the way how, in that surrender and through it, man precisely encounters the infinite love of God. It is the reality of the love present in the absolute being, which God is4.

This is the whole point of the crucifixion. Christ said that “no one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). That is why the supreme point of love resides precisely on the crucifixion. But then, this is not merely a generic affirmation. It does not refer exclusively to the {62} unity, not even historic, of the human species. Precisely because the encounter of man with God in Christ is with all his individual characteristics, we must affirm that Christ did not die for the totality of the human species, for all men as such: even if there had been only one sinner on Earth, Christ would have done exactly the same, and would have died on the cross for him. He died for each one of us. And precisely because of this, the encounter of man with God in Christ is an encounter through a real and concrete love. This reality of God is the one that constituted madness for the Greeks, by incorporating the characteristic of being personal; and for the Jews a scandal, by incorporating the characteristic of being a death. Indeed, precisely the existence of this intrinsic unity between love, and personal truth is what constitutes at the same time, wisdom as absolute reality of God, of the Christian God, and on the other hand, the fundament, the root, and the sense of all history.

Evidently, St. Paul could not make the argument Gamaliel made saying the apostles should be left alone: for if it was an endeavor of human origin it would destroy itself, and if it came from God it would continue (Acts 5:38-39). But surely he must have remembered it. Based on historical events one can observe that Christianity (excluding Christ), in any of its dimensions, has no lack of intrinsic resemblances with many of the religions encircling it, with religious movements like the gnosis, and with the mystery religions arriving from Asia. Today we cannot deny there were contacts. There were, but the contacts took on a variety of forms. The discoveries of the Dead Sea scrolls and other documents, increasingly demonstrate the great number of similarities there are between Christianity, and everything that constituted the religions, and religious movements that surrounded it. In the end, from my perspective, we should adopt no other attitude but to say that the greater the resemblance the better. {63} Because that is what Christianity is: something that resembles all religions, and therefore, is everything in them, but in a different way. Christianity is not a syncretism: it is a transcendence. The same way in which Christ made His own life in Israel, like the life of all the others, except He did it in a different way, and through that way carried all men to God, analogously, Christianity absorbs whatever is positive in all other religions in order to make a religion out of it, but in a different way. That is the concept of transcendence, completely different from that of syncretism. It has been through transcendence that twenty centuries of the history of the world have been constituted. Nothing has ever been fertile in history through syncretism.

From the point of view of God this march of the history of religions is unitary. It is precisely the long and painful way, which God, in His inter-personal relationships, continues to open in the depths of the human spirit. One might think that it is at least an absurd presupposition from the side of Christianity, to pretend that in the whole of history only Christianity possesses the absolute truth. However, we are not talking about Christianity here, but about something else, we are talking about Christ. And Christ is absolute, precisely because He is the very reality of God. In the measure in which Christianity expresses the reality of God, Christianity is absolute. And this, not because Christianity may be just an opinion among others, which appropriates the characteristic of absolute, based perhaps on historical conveniences or propaganda reasons, but because of something completely different, because it is the expression of the reality of Christ, who is the intrinsic, theological, and metaphysical unity of what the personal reality of God is, and what the personal reality of man is. Christianity is founded on Christ; it is not founded on the acceptance of some mere abstract values. That is why all the other religions constitute a {64} “deformed”5 Christianity. Not because the truths of Christianity may be found deformed in them, but because none of the other religions has been, as its reason for existing in history, anything but the different ways through which mankind has been slowly, through the very action of God, prefabricating its access to God through Christ.

The credibility of our option is expressed, therefore, purely and simply, in the internal and metaphysical structure of love in which God personally consists, and in which personally, through the hypostatic union, the reality of Christ consists. The man possessed by truth is in that situation through love, and surrendered by faith to truth, he is also surrendered to love. To understand this is no mere fantasy, we only have to read the words of St. Paul: “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom God; because the foolishness or madness of God is wiser than all men, and because the weakness of God is precisely more powerful than all the power of men” (1 Cor 1:25). Truly, the history of Christianity is nothing but the way in which that weakness and that apparent innocuous personal reality of a carpenter of Israel is carrying along the absolute reality of God, identified in His Person, and constituting precisely the intrinsic and fundamental truth of history and of all religions. How in addition He constitutes the promotion of life and history will be the subject of the next section.

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1 Zubiri notes at the margin: “explain the concept of sanctity as presence of God”. This point is covered in X. Zubiri, The Philosophical Problem of the History of Religions (El problema filosófico de la historia de las religiones, op. cit., pp. 344 ff).
2 Cf. X. Zubiri, Nature, History, God (Naturaleza, Historia, Dios), Madrid, 1987 (9th ed.), p. 530.
3 The encounter of God in Christ is not univocal: it may occur under different ways and modes depending on the situations, the times, etc., even though it is always the same, since Christ is hypostatically the Eternal Word (note by X. Zubiri).
4 Zubiri adds a question mark on the margin.
5 Zubiri will correct this affirmation below, in this same chapter. Concerning this concept, please refer to The Philosophical Problem of the History of Religions (El Problema filosófico de la historia de las religiones, op. cit., pp. 332-356).



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