“The metaphysics of the body and the flesh of metaphysics is love”

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The metaphysics of the body and the flesh of metaphysics is love. A breathing-in of life into the empty shell of concepts, a tactile material which clothes the language in the sinews, skin, and flesh of reality. Signifiers of that which exists: nature and person, substance and hypostasis, energies and otherness. They remain suspended in the illusion of mere mental concepts if they are detached from the experience of love. The same is true for the language of poetry: an arbitrary verbal game, unrelated to the meaning of life if it is stripped of the clarity of yearning.

Nature and beyond nature. The common “material” of the urge, of the demands of the body, of the dark need for physical relaxation of tension. Beyond that, the inexplicable rise of the call, the light in the glance, in the smile, in the grace of movement, the longing for presence, the surprise of otherness. Ambiguous boundaries between physical and metaphysical, impersonal and personal. And somewhere there are traces of the primary and essential, the verification of the real, life and death. …

Love’s model in the life-giving revelation is the Triadic fullness of life. There “nature” is understood as uncreated, itself containing the cause of its own existence. And what is astounding in the revelation: It does not attribute authentic life to the uncreated aspect of the “nature,” but to the personal mode of existence which hypostasizes the nature.  The immortality of the Persons is not a given necessity of the “nature”; authentic life is not an unfree natural precondition. It is personal freedom which hypostasizes the nature as erotic self-transcendence. And it is the uninterrupted love of personal communion which constitutes authentic life, which reveals the “nature” as uncreated.

Our descriptive language is always inadequate, as is also our experience of erotic revelation: Authentic life lies in the mode of existence, not in the “nature.” The “nature” is not divided, distributing immortality amongst the Persons as a natural attribute, nor can the Persons be separated as non-hypostatic internal relations of the “nature.” Each Person hypostasizes the general “nature” in the mode of self-emptying of every natural autonomy and self-existence. The mode of love.

Every extension of the life-giving revelation is an invitation to verify it experientially through and beyond the relativity of language: Christ Jesus, the historical flesh of the revelation, liberates human nature from its subjection to death, hypostasizing this very nature—through the mode of authentic life, the mode of love liberated from nature. He is born from a virgin, which means: he hypostasizes nature without subjecting himself to the mode of nature, to the sexual urge which perpetuates death. Thus, in his person human nature constitutes a hypostasis of life liberated from the auto-erotic necessity of that same nature. The Word becomes a human being in the same mode in which he is God: the mode of love.

The incarnate Word empties himself wholly of Godhead when he wholly assumes humanity. He becomes its Bridegroom. Becomes “one flesh” with it. Emptied of the Godhead he does not cease to be God, since the mode of divine existence is erotic self-emptying. And incarnate he does not simply become a “mere” man, since the Incarnation itself expresses in nature the mode of Godhead. Perfect God and perfect man, not a quantitative “intermingling” of the two natures, but hypostasizing in the Word’s mode of personal existence the existential powers of the two natures.

Christos Yannaras

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10 Responses to “The metaphysics of the body and the flesh of metaphysics is love”

  1. Tom says:

    This—

    “The immortality of the Persons is not a given necessity of the ‘nature’; authentic life is not an unfree natural precondition. It is personal freedom which hypostasizes the nature as erotic self-transcendence”

    is wonderful. Wow.

    That final paragraph—

    is suspicious looking. Ouch.

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  2. Jonathan says:

    Tom, probably a stupid question, but what exactly stings you in that paragraph that’s not present elsewhere in Yannaras’ idiom?

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    • Tom says:

      Sorry for being so cryptic. The main subject matter of the quote (viz., love and embodiment) is too beautiful and my uneasiness with the possible implications of an unorthodox kenoticism in the claim that the Word “empties himself wholly of Godhead” (“Godhead” isn’t something one changes out of and back into contingently) too beside the point, I didn’t want to sidetrack the overall point of the quote.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Got it. That’s more or less what I thought you meant. On the whole that last paragraph seems carefully Athanasian to me. This would be one instance where I’d be curious to see the Greek. What can “emptied of the Godhead” mean when it is immediately followed by “does not cease to be God”? It’s poetic language, to be sure, like the Creeds — which I’ve always regarded, maybe weirdly, as poetry and prayer rather than as dogmatic, propositional parameters. To me, this is a productive use of language, but I can understand how it’s infuriating for some people and seems to be contradictory. It is contradictory. I think that Y’s eroticism depends on contradiction in ways he’s not careful to own and spell out. At first I thought this was a demerit to him as a writer, but now I’m not so sure. He talks like a philosopher, thinks like a poet — float like a butterfly, sting like a bee — wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove — There are lots of ways to say it but basically: he’s a Christian.

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        • brian says:

          Tom,
          I do think Jonathan has a good sense here of how to read Yannaras. I know you are suspicious of kenotic language, but I am convinced there is an irreplaceable importance to kenosis. Certainly, there are heterodox formulations, but this is not dispositive. In the case of Yannaras, the immediate “does not cease to be God” ought to suggest that one is being pushed towards a paradox or a “holy contradiction” that is not meant to convey the kind of heresy that properly concerns you. Further, I would recommend a perusal of kenosis as Hans Urs von Balthasar understands it in his Theo-Drama and in his teaching on the importance of Holy Saturday. Kenosis becomes a hallmark of agapeic humility that is with the other in extremis.

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  3. Nicholas says:

    Perhaps someone could elaborate on this bit: “he hypostasizes nature without subjecting himself to the mode of nature, to the sexual urge which perpetuates death.”

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good question, Nicholas. I too struggle to understand Yannaras at this point and hesitate to even tender a guess, as I fear I would only misrepresent him.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      But do take a look at this article that I wrote a year ago: “The Fall of Humanity into the Desperate Passion for Survival.”

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      • Nicholas says:

        Thanks, Father. That article did give me a bit more insight. I have a feeling that this comes down to whether sex is antelapsarian or not, something I really have not thought much about.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Nicholas perhaps this quote from Variations will help:

      Nature’s urge and drive to articulate authentic life on its own, to transcribe love into the very life of mortality. The sexual need perpetuates nature, not persons. Our individual existences are of concern to nature only because they channel the genetic material of its own perpetuation: an impersonal supremacy of nature over the personal existences that give it hypostasis. Nature is perpetuated through the endless succession of mortal individuals, is identified with the survival of the impersonal and undifferentiated, the death of the unique and unrepeatable. (p. 135)

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