‘Discernment and the Paschal Mystery: St Paul and Desert Spirituality’ by Mark McIntosh

In Discernment and Truth: The Spirituality and Theology of Knowledge (New York; Crossroad, 2004: 127-148)

Epistemology – the study of how we know stuff –  is not everyone’s cup of tea!  But for me, it was the very reason I set aside 2011 to study.  This chapter by Mark McIntosh inspired clarity in my own thinking and produced an essay for the MTh in which I articulate an epistemology which has been jostling to emerge for quite some time.  I’ve put a link to the essay up on the writing page if you’re interested to read the result.

MM explains how “the paschal mystery seems to recreate human perception and understanding” because “the transformed disposition of the knower… [ is] …crucial to the functioning of discernment.”

As a ‘Mystical’ Theologian, drawing equally on the Dessert Fathers and the Apostle Paul to illuminate the Jesus narratives, MM fuses intellectual knowing with experiential knowing in a way most Modern Theological traditions seem incapable.  That does not mean that he is disinterested in rationality but rather,  as the Apostle Paul suggests, there is an alternative Christian rationality which emerges from a person’s encounter with the Resurrected Jesus.  The cross has the uncanny ability to reveal our self-idolatry, or in the Girardian terms which MM prefers, the cross “grounds the mind in reality free from the distortions of fear, envy, and anger.” It presents a mirror to our very selves and we see not just our suffering but also our sin.  All of us, at one time or another, are guilty of allowing another to be ‘sin for us.’   “The ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2) is not an alien rationality that displaces native human reason, but is rather a pattern of rationality constantly held open by faith to the wideness of God’s mercy.”  Hence, real knowledge results in real love – of God and neighbour.  “This freely self-giving love of Christ becomes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very structure of a new kind of talking and thinking and being with one another.”

“So knowing with the mind of Christ is not simply an acquisition of truths but [as James Alison writes in The Joy of Being Wrong,] ‘an expanding possession of the believer by the Father and the Son creating eternal life in the midst of this world through the creation of an imitative adhesion’ by the believing community to the practices that identify Jesus’ relationship with the Father.”

For those who are interested in the rearrangement of the outdated evangelical and liberal categories in the emerging Radical Orthodoxy movement, which tends to be ‘conservative’ on Christ but ‘progressive’ on human morality issues, understanding this subtle integration of head, heart, soul and strength is important.  These are not ‘Modern’ categories of rationality.

My sense about Easter Knowing is not identical to Mark McIntosh. (I prefer Bernard Lonergan’s analogy of ‘conversion as being-in-love’ to Rene Girard’s ‘mimetic theory’.)  If you are interested you can read my essay here:  Why is the Resurrection the epistemological key to Truth and Knowing in Theology?  Here’s the introduction which gives you a summary:

The Passion is at the centre of the Christian faith.   It is the focus of the liturgical year, the preoccupation of the gospel writers, the ‘miracle’ upon which all other miracles depend and the key to constructing theologies about the person of Jesus and the Trinitarian God whom we meet through Jesus.   “The whole New Testament is unanimous on this point: the Cross and burial of Christ reveal their significance only in the light of the event of Easter, without which there is no Christian faith.”(Balthasar 1990, 189)  Moreover, this essay argues that the Resurrection and the events surrounding it, are the key to understanding the epistemology of Christian theology.  When we meet the Risen Lord Jesus we encounter someone who is both like us and yet totally unlike us.  The inevitable human process of ‘projection’ initiates an opportunity for transformative self-knowledge.   Seeing ourselves with complete honesty allows us to see the ‘Other’ (i.e. God, life & the universe).  Jesus as wholly other, a dead-now-living person, is key to this psychic and intellectual disturbance because he does not conform to any of our previous experience or socially constructed explanations of ourselves and the world.  It pulls us up short and sends us into psychic surprise.  It initiates a moment in which to pause and think.  It is “how the paschal mystery seems to recreate human perception and understanding” (McIntosh 2004, 127).

2 thoughts on “‘Discernment and the Paschal Mystery: St Paul and Desert Spirituality’ by Mark McIntosh

  1. Wow. This is substantial! Interested if you could present this in an hour or two in the context of a prayer retreat day? I have always likde Brian Walsh on Truth and Postmodernity but this has brought some other important threads Girrard and Lonergan together for me. Good work!

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