Friday, August 10, 2007

Reflections: Authenticity Revisited

As I mentioned in my initial post, it has been my habit, when reading, to enter into a notebook some of those words which I come across that either resonate with a truth I have previously internalized, or which, although not patently true, seem to be worthy of additional contemplation. The excerpt below, from a book by the Catholic writer and thinker, Hans Urs von Balthasar, falls into the latter category.

I previously posted a piece on the authentic life, my stated position therein being that it is only saints, artists, and outlaws who have a good shot at actually living one. Here, Balthasar seems to me to be expounding upon the mechanics involved in a saint attaining his sanctity. Note also the second-to-last sentence, with reference to the Simone Weil aphorism on contemplation in the sidebar:

The man obedient to his mission fulfils his own being, although he could never find this archetype and ideal of himself by penetrating to the deepest center of his nature, his superego or his subconscious, or by scrutinizing his own dispositions, aspirations, talents, and potentialities. Simon, the fisherman, before his meeting with Christ, however thoroughly he might have searched within himself, could not possibly have found a trace of Peter. Yet the form “Peter”, the particular mission reserved for him alone, which till then lay hid in the secret of Christ’s soul and, at the moment of this encounter, was delivered over to him sternly and imperatively – was to be the fulfillment of all that, in Simon, would have sought vainly for a form ultimately valid in the eyes of God and for eternity. In the form “Peter” Simon was made capable of understanding the word of Christ, because the form itself issued from the word and was conjoined with it. When ever Simon follows the light of “Simon”, his own self, he will always be wrong and dangerously so; he only acts truly when he “takes no heed to flesh and blood”, but is obedient to his mission, through which he knows the Father’s will.
Once we see this, we must admit the possibility of a real hearing of the word, and so of contemplation.
…Here the Trinitarian background of faith is fully evident – we are rooted in the Son analogously to the way in which the Son is rooted in the Father.

 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer

The question that this raises for me is: does a man, by being "obedient to his mission" and thereby fulfilling "his own being", live an authentic life (such as would satisfy a secular existentialist), even though, as Balthasar claims, "he could never find this archetype and ideal of himself" on his own?


EdMcGon said...

This quote made it sound like Simon was predestined to become Peter. If so, then we have to question the existence of free will. Or is it a case of saying there is no free will without Christ?

Perhaps I am reading this wrong, and it merely says it is impossible to reach fulfillment in life without Christ. In this case, I assume the billions of people in the world with little or no exposure to Christ are doomed to unfulfilling lives. I find this hard to believe.

Rodak said...

Well, those are all good questions. Remember that here I am talking specifically about sainthood. It is obviously Balthasar's contention that sainthood is a gift of grace which one *receives*, rather than *earns*.
The question of free will is a tricky one, whether from a religious perspective, or from a scientific one.
I do know that the Catholic position is that God gave Man free will in order that Man could choose the Good (or Evil) on his own. Determinists would argue that free will is an illusion.
I personally tend to believe that free will is something for which Man has potential, but which must be developed.

Rodak said...

Let me go a bit further with reference to Balthasar to say that I think Balthasar would say that Simon Peter's free will was expressed when he chose *obedience* to the commission offered to him by Christ. He could have turned it down, but then he would not have fulfilled his potential, even though he was "free."

Tom said...

I don't think it's any harder to believe you can only reach fulfillment in this life through Christ than to believe you can only reach salvation in the next life through Him. Both, I suppose, would be beliefs in the strict sense of accepting something as true without seeing the full proof of it.

I'd guess that Balthasar, being a Catholic theologian, wasn't too interested in the sort of fulfillment in this life that isn't closely related to salvation in the next life.

Rodak said...

Thank you for dropping by my new enterprise.
And I'm sure that you are right in your assessment of Balthasar's probable interests.