WALKING BY FAITH WITH PAUL NOT BY SIGHT WITH ŽIŽEK AND AQUINAS

THE VISUAL REFUSAL OF THE BODY

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According to Slavoj Žižek, self-consciousness arises simultaneously with the realization and refusal of the body and its mortal contingencies (sexuality/castration) so that the Subject arises over and against the real of the body. The symbolic or the soul “has to be paid for by the death, murder even, of its empirical bearer” (The Žižek Reader, vii). In the Lacanian understanding of the Subject, taken up by Žižek, the relationship to the body is mediated through vision, the child seeing itself in the mirror, which posits a gap within the self between the one seeing and what is seen. Žižek finds this same picture of the relationship to the body developed by Paul in Romans 7 so that Paul’s self relation, “doing what I do not want, and not doing what I want,” is an expression of this visual self-relation (the ego or imaginary) pictured as being in discord with the “law of the mind” or Žižek’s symbolic.

What Žižek misses is that Paul resolves this antagonistic relation to the body in Romans 8 by shifting from a self-relation grounded in vision to an auditory relation of faith in which one must take up the Word into herself and walk. Ironically, Thomas Aquinas passes along an understanding of faith that incorporates an objectified vision on the order of the non-Christian self-relation in Romans 7 and Žižek’s notion of the dialectical (agonistic) self-relation.

VISION OR FAITH AS THE CHRISTIAN GOAL

St. Thomas Aquinas from  by Carlo Crivelli

Thomas Aquinas privileges sight over faith in that Jesus is presumed not to have faith in God as he always has the beatific vision (Summa Theologiae 3a.9.2.). Thomas locates biblical knowing within the Platonic notion of the “mind’s eye” and concludes Jesus knows and sees perfectly and has no need of faith (thus faith and knowledge are separate realms, in spite of the Transcendental Thomists, and the historical development of Thomas’ understanding concludes faith falls short of knowledge).

Given the understanding that Jesus lacked faith but depended on sight, Christian faith (pistis Christou) is understood to be an objectified faith in Christ rather than the subjective faith of Christ.[1] Christ is made the object of faith in much the way God the Father is the object of Jesus’ beatific vision. Sight is incorporated into the understanding of faith subverting the New Testament notion that the faith of Christ is to walk as he walked.

In this alternative version of Christian faith, rather than taking up the cross and obediently duplicating the walk of Christ, Christ died so that we don’t have to. The moment of supreme objectification, Jesus reduced to the objective body on the cross, is made to support a Žižekian like notion of salvation which takes death itself to be salvific. The real of the body of Christ is the empirical bearer of the symbolic vision (the vision of faith) so that Christ’s death (either continually in process as in Catholicism or in isolation from his life, as with much of Protestantism) is the ground for the final refusal of the body (or a life of obedience in the body) and the means by which the soul or the symbolic can have a first order ecstatic encounter with God.[2]

AN AUDITORY IMAGE – THE TRUTH OF THE BODY

Where Aquinas presumes that desire is for the beatific vision, Paul pictures the Subject of desire as a Subject of deception. In Paul’s explanation, desire makes the law a means of achieving the self and so enacts a loss in which the ‘I’ observes or sees (βλέπω) himself or his body (7.23) and finds there an alien force (another law) inducing evil works (7.20-21). The desire is a desire for self and the pursuit of this desire through sight exasperates the problem of the loss of self.

Where desire arises through lack (lack of self), the ground of faith is life in the Spirit, which has as its goal ‘conformity to the image’ of Christ (8.29). His image is not an object of sight (ego) so achieving his likeness is a dynamic process of walking as he did (8.4), of setting the mind on things of the Spirit (8.5), of active submission (8.7,13), and patience (8.25). Where self-consciousness arises simultaneously with the realization and refusal of the body and its mortal contingencies, the consciousness of resurrection faith (8.11) displaces the static orientation to death (the negation of death and the body) in the acceptance, rather than the visionary refusal, of the mortal body (8.11). Resurrection faith does not need the continually crucified Christ nor does it tolerate the isolated Christ on the cross. Christ bids us come and die and it is only in sharing in his death and suffering that the resurrection life begins.

[1] See R. Michael Allen, The Christ’s Faith: A Dogmatic Account (T & T Clark, 2009).

[2] Even Karl Rahner in Spirit in the World, in attempting a revisionist reading of Thomas through Heidegger, presumes that the material world is an emanation derived from the spiritual world (pp. 76, 80) and that matter is less intelligible than spirit (p. 100). The symbolic, the spirit, the soul, continually murders its empirical bearer in Christ’s death.

 

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