offers the opportunity to ask a question that has no place in Judaism
Why does such a
high, transcendent God, creator of the worlds, king of the universe,
stoop so low, dying crucified, under the spitting and mocking of some
of his creatures? Why does he humiliate himself by incarnating
himself? What does the Deus have to do with humus?
Hans Urs von Balthasar proposes the idea of « kenosis » in
response to these questions. The « kenosis » of the Son (the
God nailed to the cross) is linked to another « kenosis »,
that of the Father (the « descent » of God to man).
years ago, Paul of Tarsus had already strongly marked that this idea
of kenosis was a « madness » for the Greeks, and a « scandal »
for the Jews.
Why is kenosis
scandalous to them? Jewish Tradition admits that there is a certain
analogy between God and man, since according to Scripture, man is
created in the « image » and « likeness » of God.
If man and God have any « similarity », any « resemblance », it is first and foremost the fact of « being ». Scholastics called this similarity relationship the analogy of being (« analogia entis »).
But does the fact
of « being » have the same meaning for God and for man? There
is a good chance of misunderstanding this word, with its multiple
meanings, and its drawer obscurities.
on this subject, even within Christianity. Karl Barth points out that
Reform theologians formally deny the analogy of being. Since creation
is stained by original sin, there can be no analogy between the being
of man and the being of God.
The only accepted
analogy, according to these same theologians, is the analogia fidei,
the analogy of faith. Only faith can bring us closer to the mystery
of being. By means of reason, no knowledge of God is possible. Only a
gift of grace makes it possible to « know God ». Philosophy
and its representations, ideas or images – like the analogy of being
– are in this context powerless, useless.
The God of the
Reformation is certainly not a God accessible to philosophers.
However, how can
we understand this name of God, revealed to Moses: « I am he who
How can we
understand « I am », and « He who is », if no
« analogy of being » can make us understand its meaning?
If no analogy of
being is admissible in the context of the encounter between God and
Moses, it means that the word « being » itself is only an
empty word, a false image, which does not reflect the infinite
difference in nature between being as it is said by God (« I am
he who is ») and being as it is lived by man. We use the same
word (« to be »), but for things that have nothing to do with
each other. We are in the middle of an illusion, in the middle of a
But then why
bother with this question, if the language is perfectly useless? Why
read the Torah if the word « to be » is meaningless?
Why would God
tell Moses words that would objectively have no meaning for human
understanding? Why would God maintain confusion in this way, by
playing on the obvious inability of human language? Is this God a
« deceitful » God?
If the word « to
be » is devoid of any common sense, does it nevertheless have a
real meaning, reserved for the initiated?
If each way of
being is only a fleeting image, a partial appearance, a transitory
phenomenon, where does the ultimate essence of being stand?
God revealed to
Moses to be the being who is « the being who is ». By
contrast, it is deduced, man is a being who is not « a being who
is »; he is a being, undoubtedly, but he is not « the being
who is ». Nor is he a being who is not, because then he would be
nothing more than a void, and the question would be resolved. This is
clearly not the case. What is it then?
The metaphor of
being like a « garment » can put us on a track. Serge
Bulgakov dares the idea of a God who undresses himself freely from
his Glory, while remaining God in himself.
To what extent
can this free disregard for God by Himself go? To infinity? Is there
a lower limit below which God can no longer « undress », or
infinitely « naked »?
metaphors…. What does it mean, « to undress », or « to
be naked », for God?
In the absence of
a precise answer, we borrow from Paul a Greek word, « kenosis »,
which means « emptying »,
to enrich a deficient theological vocabulary. « Kenosis »
refers to the fact of a naked God, as delivered in Scripture, but
does not explain why, the end or the essence of it.
When God says: « I
am the one who is », does he then « undress » himself
with the Glory of his « being », by this very word? Or is
this word still a glorification?
Does he undress
from his glorious « Being » to remain humbly gathered in this
simple word, which twice uses the word « to be », which is
also part of the miserable lexicon of man?
The word that
Moses heard on the mountain has no visible equivalent. The « burning
bush » was well visible to him, but it was not the visible image
of the divine words (« I am he who is »). At the very least,
it can be argued that the « burning bush » is perhaps an
image of Glory, of which it is precisely a question of seeing if God
can decide to undress himself from it.
If Glory is a
garment, and God undresses himself, what remains to be « seen »?
Or to « hear »? A fortiori, if the being is a garment,
and the man undresses himself in it, what remains to be shown or
Under the garment of the being, what
ultimate nakedness is she lying waiting for? Under the divine Glory,
what darkness reigns?
Boring questions, no possible
answers. And yet we must continue to wander, in search of new paths,
as the darkness thickens here.
Noxious darkness invades the brain
as soon as we speak, not of the Divinity that is said, or that
reveals itself, but of the one that hides or lowers itself.
« The darkness of the
abandonment of the Son has its roots in the darkness of the Father »
(Adrienne von Speyr).
These similar darknesses may also,
in their darkness, carry an infinitely weak glow. The deeper they
are, the deeper you dive in them, the more you drown in them, the
more they make you hope to find at the bottom of the sea the glow of
the unheard-of, the glow of the unthinkable.
An infinitely weak glow at the
bottom of infinitely dark darkness is a good metaphor for the
Any concept or image that can be
formed about divine infinity must be renounced immediately. It is
necessary to leave (as if by iteration, in the construction of a
mathematical infinity) the place to a new enigma, to a new darkness,
always deeper, each provisional concept annihilating itself, each
proposed image immediately becoming obscured.
In the absence of being able to say
anything positive, therefore, we can only try the negative path, the
one that one of the best specialists in the field has called the
« dark night ».
It is necessary to hypothesize that
God is also incarnated, in his own way, in « night » and
« powerlessness ». He can be « night » to himself,
reveal himself deep darkness and absolute nakedness under the garment
of his Glory; admit to himself « absence » at the heart of
These are other ways of defining
kenosis, other metaphors.
In the 4th century, Hilaire de
Poitiers said that the Word of God has a « disposition to
annihilation » which consists in « emptying himself within
his power ».
This idea is still based on the raw
fact of kenosis, as reported in the biblical text.
Let us return to an index, the only
one we have of « annihilation » and « emptiness ».
Jesus shouted just before he died: « Elôï, Elôï, lema
Jesus expresses himself in Aramaic,
and this phrase is translated as follows: « My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me? »
This cry of agony and dereliction is
also a notable, though not obvious, reference to the first verse of
David’s Psalm 22, which reads in Hebrew as follows (note the
difference with Aramaic):
« Eli, Eli, lamah,
The spectators who were watching
Christ’s agony on Golgotha made a mockery of Christ’s cry: « And
now he is calling Elijah to help him! ».
It can be assumed that the dying
person misspoke the words, suffocated by the cross, or that his dying
breath was too weak for the crowd to hear him clearly. Another
hypothesis is that Aramaic was perhaps not well understood by the
Roman soldier? Or was the allusion to the verse in David’s psalms
perhaps not obvious to the witnesses present?
All these hypotheses are obviously
superfluous, inessential; but they refer to a single question that is
Why this cry of abandonment, in the
mouth of the « Messiah »?
The abandoned Son, the Father
abandoning. At the supreme moment, extreme loneliness. Absolute
failure, total nil. Jesus denied, despised, mocked by Man. And
abandoned by God.
All this, from beginning to end,
even today, incomprehensible, laughable, scandalous: « Madness
for the Greeks, scandal for the Jews. »
This madness and scandal are two
thousand years old. What can they still mean, under the lazzis,
hatred or indifference, for a civilization of reason, order and
« lights »?