Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. — Phil 2:5-8
This Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The second reading contains one of my favorite passages (cited above) about the attributes of the triune God. The term use to describe the passage is kenosis, which comes from the Greek word for emptying. It means the self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.
This week’s reflection explores this radical concept and how leading Catholic scholars of the 20th century such as Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner have interpreted this attribute of God in light of scientific discoveries of the last 200 years. The reflection is from a 2006 article by Manuel G. Doncel, S.J, a Spanish physicist and Jesuit priest, titled “The Kenosis of the Creator, His Creative Call and the Created Co-Creators” that was published in the European Journal of Science and Theology. The paper is very theological but is very readable for a non-theologian such as me. I encourage you to read the entire paper here but set forth below is an excerpt:
“The Christian idea of kenosis is grounded in a verse of a New Testament hymn (Philippians 2.7), and has been traditionally applied to the incarnated Logos. But, under the Jewish influence of the mystical zimzum, kenosis is now also applied in Christian theology to the Creator. This leads to a change of emphasis in the concept of God: from ‘absolute power’ to ‘absolute love’. According to [Catholic theologian] Hans Urs von Balthasar, such a kenosis (characteristic of any true love) should be presupposed in the eternal love relationship of the divine Persons. What we consider in Creation or Incarnation is a manifestation of this internal kenosis in God’s external relationship with creatures, which add its vulnerable nature to kenosis.
We can imagine the kenosis of the Creator as a ‘self-restriction’ in His divine being, freely fulfilled in loving respect for the creatures to be created, in order to offer them metaphysical play, to exist and to act as autonomous created beings. We specifically conceive that the triune God, ‘before’ His decision to create the universe, freely accepted to be ‘no longer’ the only ‘sufficient condition’ of every particular effect. When deciding upon a universe of physical and free personal creatures, the kenosis of the Creator embodied a variety of elements to be indicated.
The most momentous element of the kenosis of the Creator is related to free human actions. Respect for this freedom requires God to allow moral evil or sin (i.e. to allow creatures to react against the divine will). Denis Edwards makes this point when he considers real freedom in the triune God, the freedom to enter into love, to risk oneself with another. On the other hand, John Polkinghorne draws a parallel between the ‘free wills’ of human agents and the ‘autonomous processes’ of the world regulated by natural laws. Thus, he considers a new element of the kenosis of the Creator, the fact that God allows His creative call and the created co-creators the autonomous course of such world processes. This may shed new light on the problem of physical evil.
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The essence of the trinitarian God is love, which is exchanged between the divine Persons in an eternal perichoresis (‘circumincession’, intercommunication). The new application of the divine kenosis intends to introduce a whole world of created persons within the personal being of God, amounting to an extended perichoresis of sorts. Such creatures should be built with respectful tact, so that they become persons, and they should also experience restoration from disorders. This kenosis of a vulnerable nature will come to an end, together with every physical and moral evil, when these personal creatures are consecrated in indefectible love and living in interpersonal communication with God.”