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Sin Yông-hun

Stephen Webb objects to what he describes as my “apophatic” view of the ascension. His objection is that I mishandle the continuity–discontinuity dialectic by denying spatiality or “real place” to the ascended Lord. He might just as well have said that I deny “real time” to Him. I do no such thing. Rather I qualify space and spatiality, time and temporality, and matter and materiality in just the same way: it is absolutely real, but the element of discontinuity that results from its transformation and perfection in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ forbids us from supposing that we are capable of plotting its trajectory or precise characteristics on the maps of our own provisional experience of reality.

It is not for nothing that I conclude the book by referring even the great Dante back to the final chapter of Against the Heresies. Yet Webb seems to worry that my own course correction as regards St. Augustine has led me unwittingly out of the Irenaean camp into the very camp—that of Origenist eschatology—that I have spent nearly two decades resisting. This worry is groundless. I stand, however, by what I wrote, which my friend has quoted too briefly:

Here, in answer to the criticism earlier leveled at Augustine, it is also right to notice what he says in On the Trinity . In showing how Christ’s death and resurrection address ‘this double death of ours’ (that is, the death of the body and of the soul) he points out that ‘both in death and in resurrection, his body served as the sacrament of our inner man and as the model of our outer man, by a kind of curative accord or symmetry.’ The noli me tangere of John 20:17 is no warning that his body is now to be dispensed with, either literally or for faith. Rather it is a warning ‘not to have materialistic thoughts about Christ,’ that is, about his soul or his body. And that means, inter alia , to recognize that in our own resurrection ‘he will transfigure the body of our lowliness to match the body of his glory’. (p. 39)

While I’m at it, permit me to provide readers with the full passage from which Webb draws the mistaken conclusion that I think there was “no actual movement” entailed in the ascension, and no place for Jesus to go to:
Thus far, then, with Pearson’s ‘true and local translation’. In the ascension Jesus really is relocated or given a new place, for it belongs to God’s creatures to have and to make and to be in a place. But how exactly shall we understand this relocation, if not as Pearson does? Where is the Father’s house? Where is God’s right hand? These questions are not altogether easy, and immediately put in doubt our second and more literal sense of the word ‘place’ or ‘placed’. Not because modern cosmology recognizes no such place, but because, as John of Damascus says, ‘we do not hold that the right hand of the Father is an actual place’. On the other hand, in going to this place which is not a place, Jesus (as the Damascene makes clear) remains who and what he is, a specific human creature to whom God affords time and space and whose bodily return we await. He must, then, have a place. Indeed, any suggestion that he does not have a place can only be regarded as a form of Marcionism, for it posits a kingdom that has little or nothing in common with the kingdom the prophets taught Israel to long for. (p. 45)

I cannot quite tell what Webb presently thinks of that quasi-gnostic wretch, Teilhard, whom I showed in both books—more thoroughly in Ascension and Ecclesia but just as forcefully in Ascension Theology— to embody in modernity the very features of Origenist thought that Augustine and the conciliar Fathers rightly condemned, but there is no need to pursue that. I want only to urge closer attention to the latter book’s eucharistic theology (chapters 5–6), for no attempt to address the problem of continuity and discontinuity can evade the challenges that appear there.

Oh, yes: Might I suggest also that closer attention be paid to the book’s artwork, a medium not forbidden but theologically endorsed and cherished?

Artist: Sin Yông-hun

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