Christian Pain and Pleasure

What role does suffering play in the economy of Christian redemption? What of its own sacrificial logic? Returning to our opening account of embodiment, the soul and touch, we need to make a distinction between sacrificial suffering (as kenosis and passion), which undoes the economics of sin through a therapy of desire, and the suffering which is a consequence and a perpetuation of sin, which undoes the orders of grace that sustain creation in its being. The body lives beyond itself. In touch it is exposed, naked to the world, its condition is perpetually kenotic and impassioned. This is the body's most fundamental experience of itself as given over to that which is other. This givenness, that comes with recognising that all is gift, each thing is given-over-to, announces a sacrificial logic distinct from a suffering that is the effect of sin (one's own or someone else's). Of course, this distinction is a theological one, maintained by faith and established by eschatological judgement. Living in medias res, as Augustine reminds us, 'ignorance is unavoidable — and yet the exigencies of human society make judgement also unavoidable'.24 Nevertheless, the distinction is important for it marks out a place for suffering as a passion written into creation (the first

24 De Civitate Dei, XIX.6.

incarnation of the divine). A cryptic verse from the Book of Revelation announces that Christ was the Lamb 'slain from the foundation of the world' (13.8). Creation, then, issues from a certain kenotic giving, a logic of sacrifice that always made possible the Passion ofJesus Christ on the cross, the slaying of the Lamb. The cross becomes the place where the two forms of suffering — the sacrificial and that which is a consequence of sin — meet. Jesus is both the body at its most exposed and vulnerable, the body that is given on behalf of sinful human beings, and the suffering victim of the disrupted orders of creation brought about by the lust to dominate. The kenotic abandonment assuages and reorientates the powers of disintegration, establishing grace as the principle of nature. But prior to the Fall, to sin, and judgement which installed suffering (and death) as a consequence of disobedience, prior to the judgement on Eve ('I will increase your labour and your groaning' Genesis 3.16) and the judgement on Adam ('You shall gain your food by the sweat of your brow' Genesis 3.19), there was a foundational giving which was extravagant and costly.

We will return to the nature of this primordial suffering later. Evidently it concerns the divine economy with respect both to its internal relations and its creation. For the moment I wish to point out how this logic of sacrifice operates in respect of divine history or Heilsgeschichte. For it is that which reveals itself as flesh and history, recorded in the Scriptures, which, for Christians, stakes out the limits and possibilities for theological speculation. And it is in that revelation of God made flesh that the relationship between suffering and incarnation, the mystery of that relationship, can be apprehended.

The suffering that marks the incarnation is figured early in the Gospel narrative of Luke in scenes and tropes of wounding and scarification. John the Baptist's circumcision is reiterated in the circumcision of Christ (1.59 and 2.21); the prophesied rejection of Christ by the world is followed by an oracle to Mary that 'a sword shall pierce your heart also' (2.35). As we observed in a more detailed exegesis of this passage in chapter six, 'The Politics of Christ's Circumcision', circumcision was interpreted by the early Church Fathers as an early blood-letting foreshadowing the sacrifice on the cross. That suffering was also a glorification, for the detail that it took place on the eighth day was traditionally interpreted as a reference to the eschato-logical day of judgement; the day following the final and consummating Sabbath when the dead rise with new bodies to dwell eternally in the kingdom of light. This paradoxical nature of suffering and glorification is echoed throughout the New Testament. We will meet it in the Pauline Epistles, and in the Gospel ofJohn, where Christ on the cross is portrayed as both the ultimate victim and the exalted ensign for the healing of the nations. In the Book of Revelation the Lamb worshipped and adored, the disseminator of light throughout the Eternal City, remains a Lamb that is slain.

The scenes and tropes of sacrification in those opening chapters of Luke's Gospel focus on other acts of violence with which the incarnation is announced and brought about: the sacrificial offering made by Zechariah the Priest (1.10), the offering of doves or pigeons at the Presentation of Christ (2.24), the terror struck in Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds at the visitation of the angel(s), the striking dumb of Zechariah 'because you have not believed me' (1.20). The suffering of incarnation is registered somati-cally and psychologically in the flesh of those called to play a part in its human manifestation. The incarnation of Christ intensifies the experience of embodiment through the sufferings it engenders, just as — in an unfolding of the same logic — it is the experience of suffering which most deeply draws the believer to prayer (in the garden of Gethsemane, in the upper room following the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, in Paul's imprisonment). In suffering the soul is recognised at the surface of the body, the ensoulment of the body is most exposed.25 With the darkest nights of the soul, in which is evident the inseparability of consciousness, subcon-sciousness and the sensitivities of the flesh, comes the profoundest awareness of participation in the divine.

There is no deliverance from suffering promised in the New Testament before the Messianic return: 'He will dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain; for the old order has passed away' (Revelation 21.3—4). In fact, in his Epistle to the Colossians, Paul cryptically remarks that he rejoices to suffer for the Church at Colossi because 'This is my way of helping to complete, in my poor human flesh, the full tale of Christ's afflictions still to be endured, for the sake of his body which is the church' (1.24). This is a well-wrought translation, but it filters out some of the syntactic and semantic complexity of Paul's Greek. A close, more literal translation would read:

Now I rejoice in suffering [en tois pathemasin] on your behalf and fill up in turn [antanaplero] things lacking of the afflictions [thlipseon] of Christ in my flesh [sarxt] on behalf of his body [somatos] which is the Church.

25 This should alert us to other possible readings of Christian asceticism: the putting to death of the fleshly desires in order to focus on the soul's perfection need not entail a body/soul dualism. This would be gnostic. Christian ascetic practices intensify the experience of the body and it is in that intensification that the soul is rendered most visible, is most engaged.

The Greek gives emphasis to three interrelated themes. First, it builds upon and develops spatial and locational figurations that preoccupy Paul through this letter and (possibly) his Letter to the Ephesians. Throughout the letter Paul draws attention to Christ as a cosmic space filled with all the riches and treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2.3), speaking repeatedly of Christians as living en Christo or en auto, employing a locative use of the dative. All things upon earth and in heaven are reconciled 'in the body of his flesh [en to somati tes sarxos autou]' (1.22). Secondly, the Greek emphasises the inter-dependency of bodies and flesh such that there is a series of co-activities between the individual believer and the body of Christ as both the Church and the person of Christ. Later in the letter Paul will talk about being co-buried [suntaphentes], co-raised [sunegerthete], and co-quickened [sun-ezoopoiesen] in Christ (2.12—13) such that there is an economy for growth and expansion through 'the operation of him operating in me in power [ten energeian autou ten energoumenen en emoi en dunamei]'. The prose borders on poetry, as alliterative and assonantal effects resonate within an iterative litany. Paul's flesh (sarx) participates in an unfolding and outworking of Christ's body (soma), just as Jesus Christ's own flesh opens up to enfold all things in earth and heaven in one body. Thirdly, the verse picks up a rich and profound play on the verb pleroo and the noun pleroma. The verb pleroo stands as the opposite to the important word for Christ's descent from God in Paul's Letter to the Philippians, kenoo — to empty, to pour out.26 There, as we noted in chapter seven, 'Allegoria Amoris', Paul exhorts believers to 'Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born like other human beings' (2.5). But with pleroo the economics of emptying that governed the incarnation are now reversed. The lack that kenosis brought about is now being satisfied. There is a filling and a fulfilling, not only of Christ but of each believer with respect to Christ. Paul works and prays for the Colossians that 'you may be filled [plerothete] with the full knowledge of the will of him in all wisdom and spiritual understanding [en pase sophia kai sunesei pneumatike]' (1.9). The pleroma is presented as the glory or the wisdom of God filling a space, defining a certain sacred spatiality like the

26 In a highly insightful and technical article on the great kenotic hymn or carmen Christi in Paul's letter to the Philippians (2.5—11) by the New Testament scholar C.F.D. Moule, the point is made that 'what is styled kenosis is, itself, the height of plerosis: the most divine thing to give rather than to get' ('Further Reflections on Philippians 2: 5—11' in W.W. Groque and R.P. Martin eds., Apostolic History and the Gospels, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 273). I am attempting to develop this insight theologically, while avoiding some of the neater ethical pronouncements 'to give rather than to get' that Moule makes upon its basis.

Shekhinah in the tabernacle in the wilderness. Earlier in the letter Paul writes that in Christ 'all the fullness [pan to pleroma]' dwells (1.19). Later in the letter he writes that 'in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily [to pleroma tes theotetos somatikos] and you are in him having been filled [pepleromenoi]' (2.9—10). In the verse following 1.24 he presents himself as the minister according to God's economic handling [oikonomian] 'to fulfil the word of God [plerosa ton logon tou theou]' (1.25) for the Colossians.

Here in 1.24 antanaplero is utterly distinctive. Found only at this point in the New Testament, it combines ana-plero (to fill up to the brim, to make up, supply, satisfy and fulfil) with the prefix of anti. As J.B. Lightfoot pointed out back in 1876, if Paul's meaning was simply to fill up then the prefix is redundant.27 With the prefix a self-reflexivity is announced. Twice in the verse the word 'on behalf of' [uper] is employed: Paul suffers on behalf of the Colossians and on behalf of the body of Christ as the Church. His suffering in the flesh is filling what remains of the afflictions of Christ as Christ suffered on behalf of him in his own flesh. Jesus Christ as flesh (sarx) is no longer: 'even though we once knew Christ from the human point of view, we know him no longer in that way', Paul tells the Church at Corinth (2 Cor. 5.16). There remains the body of Christ as the Church composed of the flesh (sarx) of believers like Paul. Paul's suffering is, then, an extension of and a participation in the suffering of Christ. Now, on one level this is living imitatio Christi — the Church suffers persecution as Christ suffered persecution. But, considered in the light of the three emphases we have been outlining — Christ as a cosmic and spiritual space in which the operation of a divine economy of 'filling' engages and makes itself manifest through the embodiment of those believers composing the body of Christ — then we have to ask what the relationship is between suffering and glorification, affliction and fulfilment. For the filling is an activity described in terms of both suffering and full knowledge, wisdom and spiritual understanding. And it is an activity that not only builds up but also defines the operation of the divine with respect to the body of Christ. A suffering inseparable from the incarnation of Christ is experienced in believers as a suffering inseparable from coming to the fullness of the stature of Christ or 'being renewed in the full knowledge according to the image of the creator' (3.10).

Paul's writing is a theological reflection on the economics of divine power with respect to embodiment in Christ. It is a reflection upon divinity as it manifests itself in the concrete historicity of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is not speculative in the sense of conceiving

27 J.B. Lightfoot, Epistle to the Colossians (London: Macmillan, 1876), pp. 164—5.

operations in the Godhead on the basis of which earthly events might be explained. Rather, he develops and unfolds the logic of Christ's incarnation and crucifixion, examining the space that has been opened up 'in the body of his flesh through his death' (1.22). This is not, then, an example of dei-passionism in the sense of God suffering with humankind — the suffering of God described by Moltmann, for example. One recalls how Moltmann reads Elie Wiesel's account of the hanging of a child in the German concentration camp. Wiesel observes how the question of where God is is raised by Jewish onlookers. Moltmann examines this question and Wiesel's own response, in terms of God being in the very suffering of the child.

To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference ... Does the Shekinah, which wanders with Israel through the dust of the streets and hangs on the gallows in Auschwitz, suffer in the God who holds the ends of the earth in his hand? In that case not only would suffering affect God's pathos externally, so that it might be said that God himself suffers at the human history of injustice and force, but suffering would be the history in the midst of God himself.28

God suffers with us such that the negative moment is taken up into God in the eschatological coming of the kingdom. Moltmann's theology, endorsing a certain interpretation of Hegel's, radicalises God being with us, compromising God's transcendence.

Balthasar's account, of Christ's descent into hell and into solidarity with the most profound alienation from God the father, retains the transcendent and impassable source, opening wide the difference between the Father and the Son, the Trinitarian processions. In the silence of Holy Saturday God is extended to the point where even that which is most remote from the Godhead is incorporated. The depths of abjection are plumbed and God is found there. 'The Redeemer showed himself therefore as the only one who, going beyond the general experience of death, was able to measure the depths of that abyss.'29 Through Christ's suffering there is redemption, but once redemption has been achieved — the extreme boundaries of hell encompassed — then all is reconciled. 'Hell is the product of redemption', Balthasar informs us.30 Subsequent suffering is not really suffering at all,

28 Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1974), pp. 273-4.

29 Mysterium Paschale, tr. A. Nichols (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990), p. 168.

objectively speaking. For the victory has been won in Christ through the events of those three days (Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday): 'Inasmuch as the Son travels across the chaos in virtue of the mission received from the Father, he is, objectively speaking, whilst in the midst of the darkness of what is contrary to God, in "paradise", and the image of triumph may well express this.'31

But Paul's account views things differently: subsequent suffering is not epiphenomenal (which Balthasar's account, influenced as it is by Origen's and Athanasius's Christologies, may seem to render it). It participates in a true and ongoing suffering; a true and ongoing passion located in the very Godhead itself. Following this interpretation of Paul we can conclude that there is a suffering that is meaningless because it has no part in redemption. This is a suffering that rejects and fights against redemption. It has no truth, no existence in Augustine's ontology of goodness, because it is privative — it deprives and strips creation of its orders of being, its treasures of wisdom. Suffering that is a consequence and promulgation of sin can find no place in the pleroma. And only pleroma gives space, provides a dwelling. But there is a suffering that is meaningful because it is a continuation, a fleshing out and a completing of the suffering of Christ.

In several places Gregory of Nyssa will speak of this suffering as the wounding of love (a double genitive). The suffering issues from the experience of the agony of distance that is installed by difference (between the Bride of Christ and the Christ himself) and discerned by love. The agony is the very labouring of love whereby 'the soul grows by its constant participation in that which transcends it'.32 Nyssa takes up a theological account of circumcision to describe this movement: 'Here, too, man is circumcised, and yet he remains whole and entire and suffers no mutilation in his material nature.'33 The question raised here, with respect to the sado-masochistic economy of desire informing postmodern secularity, is where does the difference lie, for the internalisation of a pleasurable pain is common to both?34 For the moment let us allow that question to hang, while I emphasise, again, that only God can discern and distinguish what is true suffering, and therefore what is being outlined here is not a theodicy, nor the grounds for providing theological rationales for human tragedies. Enlightenment

32 Nyssa's Commentary on the Canticle of Canticles in Herbert Musurillo S.J. ed., From Glory to Glory: Textsfrom Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings (London:John Murray, 1962),p. 190.

34 For a more detailed analysis of this cultural sado-masochism see my 'Theology and Cultural Sadomasochism', Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, Arg. 78 (2002), pp. 2—10.

theodicies pre-empt (and therefore in an act of hubris usurp) eschatological judgement. There is a 'filling up' and therefore an end, when 'Christ is all and in all [panta kai en pasin Christos]', but that 'filling up' is not yet concluded and we remain caught between contingent knowledges and truth; intuition, ignorance and hope.

If kenosis and completion, emptying and filling, are not two opposite, but two complementary operations of the divine, like breathing out in order to breathe in, then there is no lack, absence or vacuum as such. Both movements are associated with a suffering that simultaneously glorifies. The self-emptying of Christ reaches its nadir in death only to be reversed in a final coronation: 'Therefore God raised him to the heights and bestowed upon him the name above all names, that at the name ofJesus every knee should bow' (Philippians 2.9—10). The 'filling up in turn' [antanaplero] also involves 'being empowered [dunamoumenoi] according to the might of his glory for all endurance and long-suffering with joy [eis pasan hupomonen kai makrothumian meta charas]' (Colossians 1.11). This leads us to the heart of a theological mystery: what it is that constitutes the intradivine passion.35 That the passion is the basis for the economy of kenoo and plero and that this economy opens up a space for divine redemptive activity with respect to creation is evident. It is also evident that this passion is grounded in Trinitarian relations. Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, mainly treats of the relationship between Christ and the Godhead, but the content and dynamic of that relationship he expresses in terms of wisdom, knowledge, glory and energeia. There is much debate between and among New Testament scholars and dogmatic theologians over how developed Trinitarian thinking is within the New Testament. Nevertheless it would appear to be true that the passion that is the basis for the economy of kenoo and plero — with respect to the glorification of all things created — is an intradivine passion that Christians have understood in terms of the differences-in-relation, the differences-in-identity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The suffering comes by, through and with the infinite capacity for self-exposition. It arises from the naked vulnerability of the body to a touch that delivers us the world and the world to us. Taking up the double nature of the genitive in 'the wounding of love', another way of putting this would be to say that the wounding is intrinsic to the operation of love not only between the Bride and the Bridegroom, the Church and Christ, but between the Persons of the Trinity. This is not an account of the self divided from itself— God is one in substance — nor is this an account of the sovereignty of the

35 I employ passion with a lowercase p to distinguish it from the Passion (of Christ on the cross). Evidently I am suggesting the former is the condition for the possibility of the latter.

Father splitting to constitute the Son. The suffering does not issue from any subordination. Father, Son and Spirit are co-constituted; the self-exposition is eternal. But the very equality-in-difference-of-one-substance expresses the creative tensions of loving communion. At the end of his essay on the body and touch, Jean-Louis Chrétien moves from an Aristotelian account of touch and the orientation of the embodied soul to the exterior to show how these affect Aristotelian theology: 'It is through an intelligible grasp of itself as such that the divine mind is actually intelligent.'36 This is the basis of God as pure, spiritual act. But we have already understood that touch only knows itself as such with respect to there being an external object. Chrétien observes that for Aristotle 'It is through contact with itself as intelligible object, and by allowing itself to be touched, that the divine intellect eternally ignites what comes after it.'37 Although later he goes on to quote Aquinas, he does not develop the evident Trinitarian implications of this economy of divine contact. The phenomenology of touch opens into a theology of touch in which the Father eternally begets the Son, and through that contact between them the Spirit born of them both endlessly makes known the intelligibility of what they share. For, as John Philiponus's commentary on Aristotle's De Anima says: 'Nothing suffers itself [huph' heautou paskhei].'38 The primordial suffering, then, is a passion of utter givenness through the excess of contact within the Godhead itself, which is given expression in the very act of creation so that a certain suffering is endemic to incarnate living, a suffering that always made possible the sacrifice on the cross.

Let us explore this a little further, for we are coming dangerously close to a theological justification for suffering. We need to explore, as Nyssa does, the nature of this suffering as it adheres to the very act of loving and seeks not the possession but the glorification of the other. We need to explore the economy of that loving which incarnates the very logic of sacrifice as the endless giving (which is also a giving-up, a kenosis) and the endless reception (which is also an opening-up towards the other in order to be filled). The suffering and sacrifice which are born of and borne by passion are the very risk and labour of love; a love which is profoundly erotic and, to employ a queer theory term, genderfucking.39 It is a suffering engendered

36 'Body and Touch', p. 128. He quotes from Metaphysics, 1072B19-21.

38 In Aristotelis de Anima Libros Commentaria, 292. Cited in Chrétien, 'Body and Touch', p. 121.

39 See Stephen Whittle, 'Gender Fucking of Fucking Gender: Current Cultural Contributions to Theories of Gender Blending', pp. 196-214. For a wonderful exposition of queer thinking for Christian theology, see Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God (London: Routledge, 2003), particularly 'Queering God in Relationships: Trinitarians and God the Orgy', pp. 46-59.

by and vouchsafing difference; first Trinitarian difference, subsequently ontological difference between the uncreated Godhead and creation, and finally sexual difference as that which pertains most closely to human embodiment. Augustine describes time in creation in spatial terms, as disten-tio, and distentio bears the connotations of swelling, of a space that is the product of a wounding: a wounding in and of love. The primordial suffering is the suffering of loving and being loved. Incarnating the divine — which is the nature of all things 'because in him [oti en auto] were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible' (Colossians 1.16) — is inseparable, then, from a passion, a suffering whereby we bear fruit, grow (1.6) and glorify even as we are glorified.

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