Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Dialogue in crisis

Lately I've been reading a bit on martyrdom, the blood witness of Christianity. I've reviewed the simple martyrdom described in Corneille's Polyeucte and the martyrdom described in Bernanos's "Dialogues of the Carmelites" characterized by the anguish, the fear of Christ in Gethsemane. Balthasar sees the legend of Cordula as a sign for our own days. In our age, perhaps, it is the fear, the terror of being the object of hatred for Christ's sake, which strikes our heart more than the death itself. But both kinds of martyrdoms are characterized by a love for Him who died for us, and therefore also joy. Christian martyrdom is thus always an encounter between Christ and the disciple.

«The theoretical quality that distinguishes the humanism of the Christian from every other, in actual fact, enters the sphere of dialogue only as a borderline phenomenon, a readiness for the Ernstfall [crisis, the moment of witness].

And now a strange thing happens: it is precisely the readiness, beyond the dialogue, to go much further with one's brother than one can go even in the dialogue that opens the Christian heart to the best possible and longest dialogue. The Christian allows himself to be involved more than anyone else because his partner, perhaps his opponent, is, like himself, someone who is also borne in the crucified Heart. For reasons of prudence he can adjourn a dialogue [i.e. in dying], but he cannot finally break it off. For in the Cross the dividing wall that separates the speakers at the moment has already been torn down (Eph. 2:14) — not by talking, but through the most lonely suffering.»

The Moment of Christian Witness, 124.
I added a line break after the first sentence quoted
I cannot read this passage without being reminded of Charles Péguy, who by remembering and praying a prayer he learned at the parish school suddenly became Christian — despite having lived as a socialist and having married a woman with no sympathy for Christianity. Faithful both to his wife and family and to the Church, he lived and died just within the portal of the Church.

The Ernstfall, the crisis, becomes a vanishing point that gives depth to dialogue, imparts to it a certainty that death is not the end of the discussion. At some point dialogue comes to an end, but the desire for dialogue, the love that impels us to dialogue — remains.

It's hard to read this book without thinking over and over of Flannery O'Connor (in his afterward, Balthasar notes that some complained of its sarcasm). As the Misfit said: "She would have been a good woman... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

2 comments:

clairity said...

I've been away and am not up on tagging and commenting, but I really appreciate these last two posts here, and especially to discover Polyceute. This is also a very interesting piece about martyrdom as dialogue and I love Cordula! I was confused about the sarcasm of the book?

Freder1ck said...

Re: the sarcasm. A major theme in the book is a satire on Rahnerism: not Karl Rahner himself so much, but his many glib popularizers who dominated theology (and catechesis, etc) in the years following Vatican II.

One example is that if a Christian may approach an atheist as if the atheist is an 'anonymous Christian,' then the atheist may return the favor and decide that we are anonymous atheists. I'm reminded of the public debate which Fr. Giussani recounts where the Marxist and Christians agree they want to help the poor and the only difference between them is that the Christian sees Christ in the poor and is therefore identical to the Marxist except for being a visionary...

Balthasar also gives guidelines to understanding the value and purpose of Vatican II that are quite fascinating. I'll see if I can post one of those bits later...