Kenosis Philippians 2511

Much of what follows rests upon an interpretation of seven verses in this Pauline epistle (in the Jewish context of Isaiah's suffering servant). Therefore we begin our exploration of the configurations of the doctrine of kenosis with exegesis. This is not because my exegesis can avoid being any less impartial than anyone else's, but because we need at the outset a detailed map of the kenotic trajectory. In this way we can locate particular emphases placed by theologians on one part of the trajectory and, consequently, critique their blindness to other parts. More importantly, this is not simply an essay in the history of a doctrine from the beginning to the end of modernity. This essay is also an attempt, following Balthasar and developing his insights through the work of Julia Kristeva, to configure a Christocentric doctrine of kenosis which takes Biblical exegesis as its starting point.

According to the carmen Christi of Philippians 2.5—11, the locus classicus for Christian teaching on kenosis, it is the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, which allows us to trace an association between kenosis and naming, the event of God's love and the taking of form:

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. And being recognised as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and graciously bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In the descent Christ empties himself, makes himself void. The verb kenoo is related to the adjective kenos meaning 'vain', 'devoid of truth' or 'without a gift'. With the doctrine of kenosis, then, we investigate exactly what it is to be incarnate. Put systematically, Christology grounds a theological anthropology, and a theological account of what we know of God and how we know it. The kenotic myth concerns the nature of theological naming or discourse and the nature of nature itself. As John Macquarrie has observed, the importance of the teaching lies in its insistence upon the material, the historical and the embodied. It offers a 'safeguard against those docetic tendencies which seem to have dogged the classical christology through the centuries'.1 With this teaching we are concerned with the relationship between the Logos and mediation.

Kenosis is a doctrine of divine representation. But as the account of the act of divine representation it calls into question the nature and status (onto-logical and epistemological) of human representations before and following the incarnation. Furthermore, if Christology grounds a theological anthropology, the God who becomes form grounds the human capacity to make forms. Being homo symbolicus is integral to being made 'in the image of God'. It is therefore significant that the carmen Christi of Paul's letter reveals a concern with representations and consciousness, human and divine. 'Be mindful' verse 5 exhorts, and phroneo is intellectual understanding and the ability to think. The verse enjoins that we have the same consciousness as Christ. Verses 6 and 7 delineate that consciousness in terms of a certain morphology and a certain action. He existed in the form of God (en morphe theou) but in the emptying he became the form of a slave (morphen doulou). We will return to these phrases. In this morphology, though he was equal to God he did not reckon (hegesato), think or consider that as something to be used for his advantage.2 In this morphology he took on the likeness (homoiomati) of human beings and was found in human form (schemati). In verse 7, the 'taking form' and the 'becoming like' are both modalities of the main verb kenoo. Christ's kenosis is his incarnation (death and resurrection)3 — that is the point. It is an operation with respect to the world, it is not con

1 John Macquarrie, Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM, 1990), p. 245.

2 See P.T. O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 211—16 on interpretations of this phrase ouk haragmon hegesato.

3 J. Jeremias, on the basis of a comparison between this action and the pouring out of the Suffering Servant's soul in Isaiah 53, argues that the kenosis is not the incarnation, but only the death. See Zu Phil 2, 7 ... EAUTON EKENOSEN'in Novum Testamentum 6 (1963), pp. 182-8. This would associate him with the culture of necropolis, modernity. Central to my thesis is that an act of incarnation is also an entry into death, but the two moments of this economy are summed up in a third -resurrection, which is an eternal living beyond oneself.

cerned with the abandonment of divine properties. Something about God is revealed in the operation that would otherwise be concealed — his power-lessness in his giving of himself as servant. The effect of kenosis is a renaming of the world, a world embraced by the Word, again. God gives Christ 'the name above all names [to onoma to uperpan onoma]'; a name before which all others will bow and each tongue confess (exomologesetai — speak out publicly) the Lordship of Christ. Again, humiliation or submission (not Christ's this time, but ours) leads directly to acts of representation, to speaking out publicly. The site for the continuation of the renaming of the world in terms of the Word is the Church — its liturgies, its sacraments, its office.

One of the main shifts within the hymn is from the language of form (morphe and schema) to the act of naming. The act of naming is made to participate in the form of revelation — for the name revealed, and then confessed, is God's own name, Lord. Furthermore, its concern with representation and human consciousness is worked out in terms of a poetic performance. The Christian reader learns by reading, as we saw in the first essay and we see again in the next. Reading is part of the theological practice, the theological pedagogy. Since Ernst Lohmeyer's study of the hymn in the 1920s, these lines have been understood to constitute a poetic unit composed with ellipsis, 'rhythm, parallelism, and strophic arrangement'.4 In other words, the hymn re-presents. It is not separated as an act from the action it tells. It is a poetic enactment reflecting upon three enfolded forms of representation — the divine representation of God in Christ, the exemplary nature and vicarious representation of Christ's self-giving for the Philippians (see 2.1—4), and the act of naming and speaking as a response to the reception of what is given. The hymn is characterised by a self-reflexive meditation upon theological, ethical and linguistic imitation — salvation, the appropriate behaviour of those being saved and language. The kenotic economy turns, then, upon four key words associated with mimesis — morphe, homoioma, schema and onoma. Morphe is an unusual word in the New Testament — it appears only once more in the longer ending of Mark's Gospel (16.12). According to Lightfoot it 'implies not the external accidents but the essential attributes'.5 Much has been written concerning the dative en, and several commentators have stressed its importance for the interpretation of the whole passage.6 En morphe theou — the Godhead as a sphere

4 O'Brien, Philippians, p. 198. Although it still remains contentious how many strophes there are — two (Martin — note 6) or three.

5 J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (London: Macmillan, 1894), p. 108.

6 R.P. Martin, Carmen Christi: Philippians 2.5—11 in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 99; O'Brien, Philippians, p. 206.

within which Christ dwells — would then be the equivalent of the Johannine 'that glory I had with you before the world began' (17.5). The en would then suggest Trinitarian participation by the Son in the Father. Following Lightfoot, a host of more recent scholars have confirmed this reading by pointing out the affinity between morphe and eikon, where eikon suggests not a distinction between form and substance, but a participation of one in the other. Furthermore, eikon is associated in both the LXX and elsewhere in the New Testament with the glory of God, his doxa.7 In the kenosis this participation is poured out and Christ clothes himself (lambano) in the essential attributes, morphe, of slavery. Note the connection here between slavery and glory in the Godhead — both are moments in a Trinitarian procession. As F.F. Bruce put it, challenging nineteenth-century kenotic Christologies which saw in Christ as servant the abandonment of his divine properties in the form of God: 'The implication is not that Christ, by becoming incarnate, exchanged the form of God for the form of a slave, but that he manifested the form of God in the form of a slave.'8 Bruce pinpoints a certain concealment and therefore agnosticism pertaining to this form which Balthasar's doctrine of analogy develops: 'Christ's morphe exists within a tension unique to it which is intelligible only in a Christo-logical sense: it ... presents itself primarily as its opposite and as the uttermost concealment of this divine form.'9 The Pauline language suggests an antithesis of 'God' and 'slave', but the repetition of morphe identifies the two in the way John in his Gospel identifies crucifixion with exaltation.

As this icon of slavery Christ was born in the likeness (homoiomati) of humankind. Homoiomati is an ambivalent word in the New Testament (and the history of Christological reflection). Battles have been fought over how to translate it. Lightfoot again points the way: 'Thus homoioma stands midway between morphe and schema.'10 Schema denotes the outward appearance, the accidents, in the Aristotelian sense, of human nature. But these appearances are not manifestations of the substance, they are rather signifiers that are distinct from but which detail the signified substance. Human forms, natural forms are neither appearances nor self-defining matter. Homoioma operates at the threshold between the essential manifestation of the form,

7 See Martin, Carmen Christi, pp. 99—119 for a detailed discussion of the association. See also 2 Cor. 4.4 and Col. 1.15 for Christ as eikon tou theou, developing a second Adam Christology. The association is important for Balthasar's own concept of Christ as the revelation of God's glory.

8 'St. Paul in Macedonia. 3. The Philippian Correspondence', in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 63 (1980-1), p. 270.

9 Herrlichkeit Bd. I (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1969),p. 645; Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. I: Seeing the Form, tr. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1982), p. 670.

10 Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 110.

the icon, and the external appearances. The first, morphe, is identical with the original, its ontological extension. The second, schema, is an image or resemblance, which is emphasised by the comparative hos — he was found hos anthropos, bearing all the hallmarks of a human being. A note of separation from the essence, the original, is evident. But homoiomata can suggest both full identity with and difference from. R.P. Martin, in his extended analysis of the carmen Christi in Paul's letter, concludes: 'The sharp alternatives are: its meaning as "identity" or "equivalence" and its meaning as "similarity" or "resemblance".'11 The dative here, en homoiomati, is both a dative of respect ('with respect to being human') and one of participation ('entering into the condition of being human'). 'By homoioma ... Paul doubtless wishes to see ... the process whereby the thing itself impresses its form on us on its own initiative [ein sich-Auspragen der Sache selbst und von ihr selbst her]' Balthasar remarks, emphasising both similarity and identification.12

The move from morphe, through homoioma to schemati expresses a deepening progression towards externality, secondariness and appearance — towards a human externality which manifests the essential nature of being a slave, towards a world in which what appears is not what is. There is a descent from a logic of identity into a world of shifting appearances and, with verse 9, there is a return to the logic of identity when the Father crowns the Son with his name; a name they share, Lord, Yahweh. In this presentation of kenosis, then, an economy of representation is outlined — form, analogy and figuration give way to the stability of denomination and identity, the name above all names. The return to the Father is a return to the 'form of God' from which he descended — the glory of self-identification within Trinitarian difference. This economy of representation is framed within a rhythm of exchange — acts of giving and receiving by both God and Christ. We will return to this later.

There remain, though, two important aporias in this mimetic economy. The first we have drawn attention to — the ambivalent and yet pivotal word homoioma, where presence becomes representation for what is absent. For at what point in the word 'likeness' does identity shift towards resemblance? The second aporia also involves an absenting, a cancelling of presence. For the doctrine of kenosis makes inseparable from the incarnation the descent into death. The ultimate descent into non-being and non-identity is part of, though not the end of, the kenotic trajectory. Dispossession lies at the centre of incarnation. This is important for understanding the nature of homo symbolicus, the one 'made in the image of' who subsequently makes

11 Carmen Christi, p. 200.

12 Herrlichkeit Bd. I , p. 556; Glory of the Lord, vol. I, p. 578.

images of or resemblances. It is important because insofar as Christ's humanity is true humanity and true image of God, the kenosis of incarnation defines the human condition — its physical appearance, its representations of those appearances — as crucified, as constantly abiding in a state of dispossession and resemblances. We descend, in the hymn, from true presence in God into the symbolics of being human, into textuality. From textuality we move out again into the silent margins of death which erases both our humanity and our representations. Crucifixion presents a moment when the sacramental is eclipsed.

Not that crucifixion, absence and autism is the end of the kenotic story. There is resurrection, a renaming and a re-empowerment to speak. We pass, with Christ, through the textuality of the cosmos from one margin of transcendence to another; we move towards and then beyond death. In the middle, in the textuality of the cosmos, is the incarnation—crucifixion-resurrection of the form. Of course, the other way of seeing this would be to say that the textuality of the cosmos is the single aporia transgressed by the Trinity which frames it. We exist, then, in the aporia created by God in the initial diastasis that opens with creation itself.13 Only post-mortem are we re-empowered to speak in the name of Christ. Only post-mortem is identification possible. As Balthasar writes: 'this inexact [ungefähre] word is replaced by the exact Word [durch das exakte Wort ersetzt wird], which is uttered precisely where the word passes over into silence [ins Todesschweigen]'.14 We find the same sentiment expressed in the Book of Revelation, in the letter to the angel of the Church at Pergamum: 'To him who conquers ... I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it' (Rev. 2.17). Post-mortem one is given the personhood one always knows is possible; ante-mortem is a process of becoming through obedience, humility and descent. Ante-mortem is time for realising our dispossession, our secondariness; realising, what Emmanuel Levinas describes as our position as accusative in a transcendental grammar. The dispossession is integral to the fact we are 'in the image of' and image makers. It is an expression of that initial diastasis separating the uncreated creator from the created creation. The ante-mortem realisation of our dependence, though, and the secondariness of our representations, are lived within the horizon of post-mortem hopes. The economy of our representations and self-representation is, theologically, inseparable from our eschatological partici

13 This concept of diastasis will become important for our understanding of Balthasar's work.

14 Herrlichkeit, Bd. III.2/2 Teil (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1969), p. 76; Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. VII: Theology: The New Covenant tr. B. McNeil (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), pp. 84-5.

pation in the Godhead. In the words of Balthasar: 'Only in death, through divine judgement, does a man receive his definitive orientation.'15

The final moment of the kenotic economy is, then, the resurrected body of Christ, his Church. Those whose knees shall bow and whose tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. A continuum is established between the named Christ, the true image of God, and those who worship that name through their own acts of naming; being incorporated into that name through their verbalised response to and reception of it. The textuality of the cosmos is woven into the discourse of heaven, the wording of the world is enfolded within the Word of God through this resurrected body of Christ and the Church. The Church's confession and worship of Christ centre on its own act of representation, the eucharist which enacts Christ's kenosis and our kenosis in Christ through the Spirit. Through this representative act the body of Christ is distributed through the body of the Church which is made up of individual bodies located in social and political bodies. The resurrected corpus Christi enfolds all other bodies within it, like the Word enfolding all our words. All other bodies become sites of mystery. The Church, in its response of serving the One who became a Servant, receives its identity as the community of the resurrection, a body located within resurrection life which is its truth, its beauty, its goodness. Bodies as such are always transcorporal — being a physical, spiritual, ecclesial, sacramental and verbal body. This transcorporality is the enfleshment of Christ's givenness to the Father. Creation is Christ's eucharistic confession to the Father. It has no independent meaning; there is no natura pura. The world is an allegory of love to be interpreted by love.

+1 0

Post a comment