Pure Relation, Pure Unity

        a name that always points away from him and beyond him

In St John’s gospel Christ says of himself: The son can do nothing of his own accord. This seems to rob the Son of all power; He has nothing of his own; precisely because he is the Son he can only operate by virtue of him to whom he owes his whole existence. What first becomes evident here is that the concept “Son” is a concept of relation. By calling the Lord “Son”, John gives him a name that always points away from him and beyond him; he thus employs a term that denotes essentially relatedness.

On the face of it, a contradiction arises when the same Christ says of himself in St John: I and the Father are one (10:30). In reality the two statements are complementary. In that Jesus is called “Son” and is thereby made “relative” to the Father, and in that Christology is ratified as a statement of relation, the automatic result is the total reference of Christ back to the Father. Precisely because he does not stand in himself, he stands in him, constantly one with him.

What this signifies, not just for Christology, but for the illumination of the whole meaning of being a Christian at all, comes to light when John extends these ideas to Christians, who proceed from Christ. It then becomes apparent that he explains by Christology what the Christian’s situation really is. We find here precisely the same interplay of the two series of statements as before. Parallel to the formula The Son can do nothing of His own accord, which illumines Christology from the son concept as a doctrine of relativity, is the statement about those who belong to Christ, the disciples: Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Thus Christian existence is put with Christ into the category of relationship. And parallel to the logic that makes Christ say, I and the Father are one, we find here the petition That they may be one, even as we are one (17:11 & 22).

The Son as Son, and insofar as he is Son, does not proceed in any way from himself and so is completely one with the Father; since he is nothing beside him, claims no special position of his own, confronts the father with nothing belonging only to him, makes no reservation for what is specifically his own, therefore he is completely equal to the Father. The logic is compelling: If there is nothing in which he is just he, no kind of fenced-off private ground, then he coincides with the Father, is “one” with him. It is precisely this totality of interplay, that the word “Son” aims at expressing. To John, “Son” means being from another; thus, with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of a mere “I”. When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being “from” and “toward”, which nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes, as we have seen, at the same time the explanation of Christian existence. To John, being a Christian means being like the Son, becoming a son; that is, not standing on one’s own and in oneself, but living completely open in the “from” and “toward”. Insofar as the Christian is a “Christian”, this is true of him. And certainly such utterances will make him realise to how small an extant he is a Christian.

Our reflections have shown that Christian unity is first of all unity with Christ, which becomes possible where insistence on one’s own individuality ceases and is replaced by pure, unreserved being “from” and “for”. From such being with Christ, which enters completely into the openness of the one who willed to hold on to nothing of his own individuality, follows the complete “at-one-ness” – that they be one, even as we are one.

All not-at-one-ness, all division, rests on a concealed lack of real Christliness, on a clinging to individuality that hinders the coalescence into unity.         (pp 185 -187)

My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me (7:16). What, then, is the teaching of Jesus that is simultaneously his and not his? Jesus is “word”, and thus it becomes clear that his teaching is he himself. If one reads the sentence again with this insight, it then says: I am by no means just I; I am not mine at all; my I is that of another. With this we have moved on out of Christology and arrived at ourselves. The most individual element in us – the only thing that belongs to us in the last analysis – our own “I”, is at the same time the least individual element of all, for it is precisely our “I” that we have neither from ourselves nor for ourselves. The “I” is simultaneously what I have completely and what least of all belongs to me. Thus here again the concept of mere substance (= what stands in itself ! ) is shattered, and it is made apparent how being that truly understands itself grasps at the same time that in being itself it does not belong to itself; that it only comes to itself by moving away from itself and finding its way back as relatedness to its true primordial state.        (pp189-190)

  • Joseph Ratzinger. 1968. Introduction to Christianity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s