Friday, April 06, 2007

End and Essence

Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.

You may recall that a couple years ago Good Friday fell on March 25, the Feast of the Incarnation. One key idea in Aristotle is that a being's essence is integrally connected to its end. Jesus' death manifests the full meaning of His life, begun at the Incarnation.

Furthermore, Jesus' death reveals the truth of human freedom and human fulfillment:

Rational reflection and daily experience demonstrate the weakness which marks man's freedom. That freedom is real but limited: its absolute and unconditional origin is not in itself, but in the life within which it is situated and which represents for it, at one and the same time, both a limitation and a possibility. Human freedom belongs to us as creatures; it is a freedom which is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly. It is an essential part of that creaturely image which is the basis of the dignity of the person. Within that freedom there is an echo of the primordial vocation whereby the Creator calls man to the true Good, and even more, through Christ's Revelation, to become his friend and to share his own divine life. It is at once inalienable self-possession and openness to all that exists, in passing beyond self to knowledge and love of the other. Freedom then is rooted in the truth about man, and it is ultimately directed towards communion.

Reason and experience not only confirm the weakness of human freedom; they also confirm its tragic aspects. Man comes to realize that his freedom is in some mysterious way inclined to betray this openness to the True and the Good, and that all too often he actually prefers to choose finite, limited and ephemeral goods. What is more, within his errors and negative decisions, man glimpses the source of a deep rebellion, which leads him to reject the Truth and the Good in order to set himself up as an absolute principle unto himself: "You will be like God" (Gen 3:5). Consequently, freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free: he "has set us free for freedom" (cf. Gal 5:1).

Christ reveals, first and foremost, that the frank and open acceptance of truth is the condition for authentic freedom: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). This is truth which sets one free in the face of worldly power and which gives the strength to endure martyrdom. So it was with Jesus before Pilate: "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37). The true worshippers of God must thus worship him "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23): in this worship they become free. Worship of God and a relationship with truth are revealed in Jesus Christ as the deepest foundation of freedom.

Furthermore, Jesus reveals by his whole life, and not only by his words, that freedom is acquired in love, that is, in the gift of self. The one who says: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13), freely goes out to meet his Passion (cf. Mt 26:46), and in obedience to the Father gives his life on the Cross for all men (cf. Phil 2:6-11). Contemplation of Jesus Crucified is thus the highroad which the Church must tread every day if she wishes to understand the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one's brethren. Communion with the Crucified and Risen Lord is the never-ending source from which the Church draws unceasingly in order to live in freedom, to give of herself and to serve. Commenting on the verse in Psalm 100 "Serve the Lord with gladness", Saint Augustine says: "In the house of the Lord, slavery is free. It is free because it serves not out of necessity, but out of charity... Charity should make you a servant, just as truth has made you free... you are at once both a servant and free: a servant, because you have become such; free, because you are loved by God your Creator; indeed, you have also been enabled to love your Creator... You are a servant of the Lord and you are a freedman of the Lord. Do not go looking for a liberation which will lead you far from the house of your liberator!".

The Church, and each of her members, is thus called to share in the munus regale of the Crucified Christ (cf. Jn 12:32), to share in the grace and in the responsibility of the Son of man who came "not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28).

Jesus, then, is the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God. His crucified flesh fully reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth, just as his Resurrection from the dead is the supreme exaltation of the fruitfulness and saving power of a freedom lived out in truth.

Jesus manifests the full meaning of our life, begun anew with the Sacrifice of His Incarnation and Death.


Also of interest: Þe milde lomb isprad o rode


John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) (6 August 1993), 86-87.

Thomas Aquinas, Pange Lingua (hymn), trans. Edward Caswall.

2 comments:

Caryl said...

One key idea in Aristotle is that a being's essence is integrally connected to its end.
Hi Lawrence - do you mean 'end' in the sense of 'purpose' or 'end' in the sense of death, or finality?

Lawrence Gage said...

Caryl,

Both, actually. That's the beauty of the ambiguity of "end" (and "finality").

The essence or nature of a thing is expressed in both its purpose and in its dissolution. As Aristotle writes in Physics II.1, nature can mean either matter or form (but most properly the latter). The nature (as in form) is most fully expressed in the being's perfection, but the nature (as in material) is expressed in its dissolution.

This is why Aquinas writes in his commentary on the Physics, "But it must be said that old age and corruption and decrease in a way are contrary to nature and in a way are in accord with nature." (V.10.739)

LG