Asymmetrical Reciprocity In Theology

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Two Greek terms are at the theological heart of understanding motion and flows: kenosis and pleroma. These terms are also the theological heart for our third topos, relation. This is a giving of oneself that can only come from the ongoing and endless reception of the other. This outpouring, both divine and human, is only possible, and for human beings only sustainable, in terms of the infinite plenitude of God's ousia. Here lies the basis for a sociality that is the burning vision in all ecclesiological practice. This is very important today, because the unprecedented rise in refugees, exiles, homeless and stateless peoples finds an echo in the growing popularity of ideas like kenosis, emptying, exile and the nomadic among some postmodern philosophers:43 Michel de Certeau,44 for example, Mark C. Taylor, 45 Jean-Luc Nancy,46

41 Phenomenology of Perception, p. 369.

42 Ibid.

43 There is an interesting collection of essays concerning this theme in contemporary continental philosophy: Letting Go: Rethinking Kenosis, ed. Onno Zijlstra (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002).

44 See the later chapters of The Mystic Fable, vol. 1: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, tr. Michael B. Smith (University of Chicago Press, 1992).

45 See Altarity (University of Chicago Press, 1987).

46 See his notion of the endless diremption of the body: 'Corpus' in The Birth to Presence, tr. Claudette Sartiliot (Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 189-207.

Gianni Vattimo,47 Emmanuel Lévinas48 and Jacques Derrida.49 It is, as we shall see, a kenosis or emptying without telos, an infinite kenosis, a kenosis also that issues from and into absence, not pleroma. I will develop what is at stake here with reference to the work of Lévinas.

What characterises philosophy, for Lévinas, is totality: the going out from and the return to the Same in some Hegelian feedback loop. This takes narrative form in in the story of Ulysses 'whose adventure in the world was only a return to his native island'.50 What his own work defines is the wounding mark or trace of the infinite, the transcendent, an exteriority that forever disrupts this return to the homeland of the Same and therefore totality. This is a thinking orientated towards the wholly other [autre], a departure with no return, which, however, does not go forth into the void, [but] would lose its absolute orientation if it sought recompense in the immediacy of its triumph ... As an orientation towards the other ... a work is possible only in the patience, which, pushed to the limit, means for the agent to renounce being the contemporary of its outcome, to act without entering the Promised Land.51

The orientation towards the other — in which oneself is hostage to the other, totally responsible before this other, accused in the eyes of the other — means for Lévinas that we forever live beyond ourselves. This is the basis for ethics, for him. Not simply an ethics of moral prescriptions, but an ethics commanded by a Good beyond being whose infinity calls all our human productions and fabrications into question. We are summoned to live beyond our home-making, to leave the cities of refuge. This wholly other, in whose wake we follow, is recognised in the face of the stranger, the widow, the orphan; it calls each of us in turn to 'go forth', even if that going forth is not 'into the void'. There is redemption only in this movement out to the other. In a passage entitled 'Pièces d'identité' Lévinas writes: 'A Jew is accountable and responsible for the whole edifice of creation. Something engages man

47 See Beyond Interpretation: The Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997) and Belief, tr. Luka Disanto and David Webb (Stanford University Press, 1999).

48 This is a profound and recurrent theme throughout Lévinas's work. It perhaps best finds expression in the section treating 'The Substitution' that began as an essay in 1968 but was incorporated into Lévinas's book Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, tr. Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Marti-nus Nijhoff, 1981).

49 See in particular 'Sauf le nom' in On the Name, tr. John P. Leavey Jr. (Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 35-85.

50 'Meaning and Sense' in Collected Philosophical Papers, tr. Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), p. 91.

even more than the salvation of his soul. The acts, utterance, thoughts of a Jew have a formidable privilege of destroying or restoring worlds.' '[A]s responsible,' Levinas writes, 'I am never finished with emptying myself of myself. There is infinite increase in this exhausting of oneself, in which the subject is not simply an awareness of this expenditure, but is its locus and event ... The glory of a long desire! The subject as hostage.'52

If I am critical of Levinas, and even more so of other modern philosophers of the kenotic, or endless self-emptying, it is because of the lack of attention they pay to reception. I do not accept that kenosis is the basis of sociality. As the host must receive her guests, the guests must receive the hospitality offered. For Levinas, this omission is explicable in terms of the attention given to receptivity in Kant and also Husserl's phenomenology; he wishes to examine that which is prior, for him, to receptivity: being obligated or sub-jectum to the other. Levinas is also wishing to describe an economy, a work towards the other, that 'requires the ingratitude of the other'; since gratitude would be the 'return of the movement to its origin'.53 In other words, in Levinas's understanding of the economy of the gift there cannot be mutuality or reciprocity. The economy envisaged, and Levinas is emphatic about this, is 'a one-way movement'. It is not, in my own terms, an economy of response. What this other brings or evokes is desire; 'desire for the other'54 is key to Levinas's account of oneself, one's neighbours, God and ethics. The other is recognised in the economy of the desire it evokes. But sociality is not simply desire for the other, it is also the other's desire for me. Levinas conceives that in the unending emptying of oneself, in the way the other empties me, I discover 'ever new resources. I did not know I was so rich'.55 But from where can these resources spring if the ego is always a hostage, always accused? They can only come from that which is continually being given, such that what I am being emptied of is that which I am being given: the infinite generosity or fullness of God's grace that St Paul conceives in terms of pleroma. That sociality, which moves beyond ourselves and into a permanent journeying towards the other, is only possible within an economy of the gift in which I am constituted in the transit of plenitudinous grace. Only then can my desire for the other avoid being endless sacrifice, on the one hand, or a lust that only consuming the other would satisfy. Pleroma as infinite, divine generosity makes possible a relationality beyond self-abnegation and beyond appetite. There are alternative economies of the

gift that do not figure mutuality in terms of a return to the same.56 This is an economy of the gift that Levinas inherits from Marcel Mauss, in which giving incurs a debt to be repaid.57 Giving is fundamentally associated with exchange, so non-reciprocity is needed to forestall a return.58 But the economy of giving that I am outlining is more akin to the situation between the host and his guests when Abraham welcomes the three strangers into his camp at Mamre (Genesis 18.1—15).59 Abraham does not give to the strangers because he will get something in return. Though he later receives the promise of Isaac, the service and the welcome he offers are prior to this promise. He receives the strangers as God and in faithfulness to the God who has been with him throughout his journeying. Being faithful is an orientation of being towards God; it determines but is prior to action. Faithfulness is not part of an exchange system. It is excessive to any system since, when nothing appears to be given and one has to live for a future in which others will enter the Promised Land, not you, faithfulness remains.

The giving that operates between oneself, other people (autrui) and God as wholly other (autre) transcends exchange. Levinas is right to point out how we do not own ourselves, but I believe his understanding of God as absolutely other is wrong. It is a God who is always absent, whose mark upon creation is only a trace of his passing on ahead; a God who does not return the infinity of one's desire but, in order to remain God and other must be indifferent to our continual attention to his intention in creating us. Now while I hold to the importance of the apophatic tradition in cutting

56 I am aware here of the extensive debate between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion on the gift, John Milbank's rigorous theological analysis of the debate and his own richly suggestive contribution. I have learnt much from engaging with this material, particularly Marion's phenomenologi-cal account of donation and reduction in Reduction and Givenness: Investigations of Husserl, Heidegger, and Phenomenology, tr. Thomas A. Carlson (Evanston, 1ll.: Northwestern University Press, 1998) and Being Given: Towards a Phenomenology of Givenness, tr. Jeffery L. Korsky (Stanford University Press, 2002) (both of which are profoundly theologically informed) and Milbank's provocative challenges to it in the name of deeper appreciation of Trinitarian participation.

57 Marcel Mauss, The Gift, tr. Ian Cunnison (New York: Norton, 1967).

58 See Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I Counterfeit Money, tr. Peggy Kamuf (University of Chicago Press, 1992).

59 'Then the Lord appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinth trees of Mamre as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, "My Lord, if I have now found favour in your sight, do not pass on by your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant." And they said, "Do as you have said"' (Genesis 18.1—5). One notes how the three strangers constitute for Abraham 'the Lord'. His response is gratitude at being able to serve and the meal he prepares subsequently far exceeds water and 'a morsel of bread'.

through our projections and fetishes of God, nevertheless I would maintain that the infinity of our desire for the other is only possible on the basis of the infinity of the other's desire for me, and that it is only on that basis of participation in that prior divine erotic giving and receiving, that each of us is able to give to each other. Not that this economy of reception between the divine and human is equal, for the God who created and sustains me, and in whose Triune life I live, is both the origin and the end of my desire. But within what John Milbank has rightly termed 'the asymmetrical reciprocity'60 we are each of us both constituted and all our relationships likewise. Human beings are gifts to each other in an endless economy of God's grace whereby we are given in order to give.

Now why has this investigation into Levinas's thinking been important? Because this account of the endless journeying into exile, this account of kenosis in which one is always a stranger, is very popular among postmodern philosophers. With de Certeau and with Levinas it is developed in a theological context such that Levinas can remark that this 'departure with no return ... however, does not go forth into the void'. It is the theological context alone that saves this journeying from nihilism. Nihilism issuing from an account of being in exile can do nothing for the plight of the refugee. The work of Derrida, Vattimo and Taylor simply announces that we are all dispossessed persons and in a continual state of being dispossessed; we are all nomads. The corollary of that confronts the refugee with the claim: 'You are nothing special. You merely give poignant expression to the condition of being human.'While there is some truth in that, as I have argued above, that is not the whole of the story. As Edward Said has pointed out in his examination of the experience of being the migrant or the refugee, 'To live as if everything around you were temporary and perhaps trivial is to fall prey to petulant cynicism as well as a querulous lovelessness.'61 That is not a recipe for sociality; only for indifference and accelerated social atomism. Abraham journeys into deeper and deeper exile but always within the context of God's grace and promise towards him. He journeys within the economy of divine giving, of divine loving that is not impassive to Abraham's desire to be faithful. It is this participation that enables him, in exile, to be the host: to welcome the stranger into all the temporary conditions of his own dwelling. Let me put this in another way: Abraham can befriend the strangers because

60 See John Milbank, 'The Soul of Reciprocity Part One: Reciprocity Refused' in Modern Theology 17 (3), July (2001), pp. 335—91 and 'The Soul of Reciprocity Part Two: Reciprocity Granted' in Modern Theology 17 (4), October (2001), pp. 485-507.

61 'Reflections on Exile' in Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays (London: Granta Books, 2001), p. 183.

he knows that his true dwelling lies in God's love for him, and the strangers can accept and return Abraham's reception for exactly the same reason. The economy of faithful response is excessive to because prior to economies of exchange. In such an economy, to give hospitality also requires us to recognise how we are receiving hospitality: the reception of what is given is also a hosting in oneself of the other. There is no superiority between host and guest. For to host is to allow the guest to be as oneself; and to be a guest is to receive the host as oneself. True justice only operates in obedience to the economy of faithful response that recognises the question in every encounter, 'Who is the stranger?', and realises the answer is: 'Neither of us — while we have each other.' This is the economy of love — that aims always at the perfection and righting of relation. There is no justice, just as there is no beauty, truth or goodness, outside the divine ordering of all relation (or what Pseudo-Dionysius understood as 'hierarchy' and Gregory of Nyssa termed 'order' or akolouthia). From the human body in right relation issues the body politic and ecclesial.

We will treat relation itself more fully below. For the moment let us continue this meditation through the association between 'flows' and kenosis (through the metaphorical suggestiveness of the verbs kenoo — to empty — and pleroo — to fill or make full). This association draws attention to the different forms of flow and flux within Mark's text. For throughout we have been talking about 'operations', 'movements', 'productions' and 'economies'. What is the relationship between the physical issue of blood (which eventually turns into the issue of Christ's own blood, which in terms of the Eucharistic outpouring continues to haemorrhage until his body is complete), the corresponding and countering issue of power and these other dynamisms? Theologically, motion is governed by a teleology — salvation.62 What is this salvation that physical healing is analogically related to? We can only appreciate the nature of salvation when we understand the origin and end of motion — that is, why there should be a divine creating at all and how that is related to God's own desiring. Motion is ecstatic and ultimately Trinitarian; and the condition for its possibility is distance. We saw above that it is distance that gives intimacy and enables participation. What salvation is then, and what the operations of grace move towards, is an ever-deepening participation in God — the source of life in abundance, resurrection life. Eschatological concepts such as 'peace', 'abiding', 'rest' (as eternal Sabbath) are intimations of the content of this participation, like Agamben's 'ease'. The ecstatic nature of motion requires continual self-abandonment. What Paul

62 For an excellent genealogy of motion and its relation to the divine, see Simon Oliver, Philosophy, God and Motion (London: Routledge, 2005).

calls being a 'living sacrifice' (Rom. 12.1). It stands in contradistinction to what Paul describes as hardening the heart (Rom. 9.18, 11.7, 11.25) — that is, the stasis, the paralysis that issues from self-protection, fear, resentment, anger, narcissism. In fact there is only one motion because there is only one telos — and that motion is, depending upon perspective, kenotic or pleromatic (to coin a word). It is either empyting towards the other or filling with respect to receiving the other. Any notion of participation requires understanding this economy. Not that there is a reciprocity here, finally. For we are given before we learn to give and receive within that ultimate givenness. Divinely understood, there is response not reciprocity proper (though we can use Milbank's felicitous phrase 'asymmetrical reciprocity'). But insofar as God accommodates himself to that which is human, and insofar as we human beings as his creation are 'necessarily ... framed of such a kind as to be adapted to the participation of such good',63 then it follows that there are both operations of God in the world and discernments of them and a reciprocity of relation among all things mundane (of the created order). In Barth's language, in creation there is both an external and an internal covenant. Christ, as the mediator of God to humankind and humankind to God, makes possible both the asymmetrical and symmetrical reciprocity, for the movements of Christ are both participations in the perichoresis that constitutes the impassable triune Godhead and the economic operations of that perichoresis with respect to creation itself. Creation in and through the Word is caught up in the flows, emanations and energies that not only keep that creation in existence but also maintain its orders. Gregory of Nyssa, commenting upon a traditional Trinitarian analogy of the relationship of the Father to the Son being like the relationship between mind and word, puts it thus:

... the Word of God has been shown not to be this actual utterance of speech, or the possession of some science or art, but to be a power [dunamis] essentially and substantially existing, willing all good, and being possessed of strength to execute all its will; and, of a world that is good, this power [dunamis] appetitive and creative of good is the cause.64

With the word dunamis we return to the Gospel passage of the haemorrhag-ing woman's miraculous healing. Both kenoo and pleroo, as descriptions of the divine economy and the response it calls forth, are related back to dunamis. In the Introduction I commented upon how this word, like oikonomia and energeia, was central to early Christologies as found in the Apologists. Let me

63 Gregory of Nyssa, 'The Great Catechism'in Select Writings and Letters of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, p. 478.

64 Ibid.

take this further in developing a Christology in terms of flow and motion on the basis of the citation from Gregory. As Jean Daniélou points out, following the early Apologists, 'the dunamis theou came to be thought of in two successive stages: first, as an impersonal power inherent in the divine nature, and secondly, as the Son of God brought forth specifically for the work of creation'.65 But this led to varieties of subordinationist thinking. It was Origen who corrected some of the early apologetic (and Gnostic) thinking in which dunamis and energeia figured by making the generation of the Son from the Father eternal. But, as Michel Barnes has commented, 'where Athanasius and his contemporaries use the doctrine of divine generation to prove that the Father and the Son share the same nature or essence, Gregory uses generation as the basis for distinguishing the Persons [of the Trinity] .'66 Power is the expression of essence or ousia. Christ shares in the power of God (as does the Spirit), and it is the unity of the operations of this power that demonstrates the singleness of their nature (ousia). We will return to the generation and production of difference in several other essays. For the moment I only wish to pay attention to the way the Godhead is conceived as endlessly appetitive and creative in its operations; and how all these operations are good. Christ-ology has to be conceived in terms of this power and these operations. As such, salvation comes as human beings recognise they exist within this economy of response, this 'eternal power of God which is creative of things that are, the discoverer of things that are not, the sustaining cause of things that are brought into being, the foreseeing cause of things yet to be'.67 The woman's spring of blood (that has caged her in a concern with herself, with her health, with spending all she has on the care of that self and trying to restore that health) dries up — because she enters into the flows of God's power. Participating now in a new, dynamic economy — living out that appetitive and creative kenosis and pleroma — issues in new asymmetrical and symmetrical reciprocities: the relations that constitute the body of Christ. As such, as we saw, some early commentators saw her as a figure of the Church.

65 A History of Early Christian Doctrine: Volume Two, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, tr. John Austin Baker (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1973), p. 352.

66 Michel René Barnes, 'Divine Unity and the Divided Self: Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology in Its Psychological Context', Modern Theology 18 (4), October (2002), pp. 475—96, p. 483. See an earlier article by Barnes for a discussion of the hierarchical process involved in the terms ousia, dunamis, energeia and ergo, and how Gregory goes against this trend by viewing power as the natural expression of essence — 'The Background and Use of Eunomius' Causal Language' in Michel Barnes and Donald Williams eds., Arianism after Arius: Essays on the Development of the Fourth Century Trinitarian Conflicts (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993), pp. 217—36. For a much more detailed and fascinating study of dunamis theou with particular reference to the theology of Gregory of Nyssa, see Barnes, The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001).

67 Gregory of Nyssa, 'The Great Catechism', V p. 478.

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