The human person has five different senses, five different access points to the reality of the world that surrounds him. The different nature of these access points is not without relevance for the reality itself that is grasped. We are no Platonists or rationalists, for whom the knowledge of the senses signifies nothing more than the arbitrary occasion, the external cause of an intellectual knowledge that is quite different in kind.
With Aristotle and Thomas, we know that “nothing exists in the intellect that did not first exist in the sense”. It is true that the things that stand “in the intellect” are precisely for this reason grasped differently and on a higher level than when they stood only in the realm of the senses, but these are the same things of the senses that are communicated through the senses.
Thus, the individual character of the different senses enters the intellectual realm too: something heard is, even in the intellect, different from something that is seen, tasted, or touched, or at least it shows us the thing from a quite different perspective. Thus, a phenomenology of the various ways in which the senses perceive would have very great importance for an insight into our intellectual knowledge of reality; unfortunately, the average textbooks of philosophy, whether Christian or non-Christian, scarcely touch on this question.
My intention here is not even to sketch the rudiments of such a phenomenology; we cannot do this and do not wish to do this. We shall take only a few principles from the context of this scarcely existing science, which help us to find the direct access to our topic. For it is only when we grasp what seeing, hearing, and reading signify in the natural realm that we can grasp something of the meaning of these activities in the realm of the Church.
We deal only with the two noblest activities of the senses, seeing and hearing (reading will show itself to be a subordinate function that can replace these two in a rough-and-ready fashion), since these two are the most significant in the sphere of the Church.
From earliest times, seeing is held universally to be the noblest sense, that which discloses reality in the greatest depth. Seeing is the most materially relevant of the senses, because it alone unfolds before our person the world of objects, of the things that are spatially related and ordered.
This material relevance has inseparably a double meaning: on the one side, it indicates an inner state of being enlightened (since the eye sees only in the light), a possibility of encompassing things in an overview, a comprehensibility. The eye is the organ with which the world is possessed and dominated, the immediate reflection in the sphere of the senses of the rational intellect that comprehends. Through the eye, the world is our world, in which we are not lost; rather, it is subordinate to us as an immeasurable dwelling space with which we are familiar.
The other side of this material relevance denotes distance, separateness. All the other senses touch their object in some direct manner, and they have at least an instinct to come as closely as possible to this object. Only the eye needs separateness, in order to see. it is not through a close encounter that it comes to terms with things but through the look from a distance that tames them — like animals in the circus ring.
This position of distance between that which sees and the object is such an essential dimension of the act of seeing that it always enters the very highest ecstasies of unity in seeing as an inherent, felt, and living proviso: when we enter a glorious landscape, we feel that it is glorious precisely in the unattainable solitude, in the intangible distance of its extension and its horizons, and that no matter how far we wander, our romantic yearning for its blue depths will never overcome this essential distance, will never be able to wander into the picture itself.
Clarity and distance are the fundamental categories of our seeing. But this is wholly true only when we have “things”, lifeless matters, before us. To the extent that the things become filled interiorly with life and become plants, animals, human beings, a new element is added to these categories (which remain valid even here): an inner reality shimmers through the external outlines of the things, creating for itself an immediate expression in these outlines and yet dwelling mysteriously closed within itself, and the more the life that appears is endowed with spirit, the more free will its self-revelation be in the areas of its sensual-material expression.
Now there extends between the seeing eye and the living intellectual objects, going beyond the distance of the separateness without however removing this, a relationship that consists of seeing into the foreign interiority, a relationship of comprehending, of insight, that goes as far as recognizing the same intellectual quality and the same act of seeing on the part of the object.
The highest point, therefore, that an eye is able to attain is to look into another eye that sees. Two clarifies, two separatenesses sink into one another and coincide without being blended together. This means that only those of equal rank can look into one another’s eyes; even when the lord and the servant look into one another’s eyes, they do so in a sphere in which they stand equally as intellectually endowed persons, in a sphere of confidence, of fidelity, of respect, and of love.
Otherwise, one of them lowers his eyes or conceals himself and becomes rigid. Clarity and separateness, therefore, are not removed in this highest ‘moment” but have come to their most beautiful possibility. The Caesarean element of power that lies in all seeing is fulfilled when two inherent powers take the measure of one another and find it worthy of them to be the object of one another’s seeing.
Hearing is a wholly different, almost opposite mode of the revelation of reality. It lacks the fundamental characteristic of material relevance. It is not objects that we hear — in the dark, when it is not possible to see — but their utterances and communications. Therefore it is not we ourselves who determine on our part what is heard and place it before us as object in order to turn our attention to it when it pleases us; that which is heard comes upon us, without our being informed in advance, and it lays hold of us without our being asked.
We cannot look out in advance and take up our distance. It is in the highest degree symbolic that only our eyes — not our ears — have lids. Nor is it without significance that sound waves travel much more slowly than light waves, i.e., that we know instinctively, when a noise comes to our ear, that what we hear is basically already “over”, and we have no more power over it.
The basic relationship between the one who hears and that which is heard is thus the relationship of defenselessness on the one side and of communication on the other. We must develop this second point in closer detail.
Even the sounds of dead nature “speak to us”, and even their noiselessness can be a positive mode in which it penetrates to us as we listen; but in everything that lives, the voice becomes the great medium of self-communication. Only the voice discloses the inner mystery of that which lives, and the oscillating form of existence of the sound, full of presence and invisible, is itself the most appropriate bearer of this revelation, symbolically predestined to this task.
Music is the art of interiority and of the spirit; its intensity is not the intensity of light but that of warmth. And yet the revelation of the sound and of the word communicates only the utterance, not the being itself. All speaking and singing conceal at the same time the speaker and the singer; an arrow speeds across and penetrates me more deeply than a look would have been able to do, but the bow from which the arrow comes does not itself come into my hand.
No being is capable of giving total utterance to itself, even when it seeks help and aims to break out of its own interior. Thus hearing remains something intermediary and oscillating between the “Thou” and the “I”, but something that streams from the one who speaks to the one who hears. The equality of stance between the two is fundamentally removed; even in a dialogue between equals in rank, the one who is at the moment hearing is in the subordinate position of humble receiving. The hearer belongs to the other and obeys him.
Reading is simultaneously a seeing and a hearing: in the seeing of the symbolically representative signs, the word of an absent speaker makes itself internally heard. But this also means that reading cannot be either genuine seeing or genuine hearing. For it is only the arbitrary sign that is directly seen, not the object or the person himself; and the voice of the speaker, whose sound accompanies me internally like a spirit and as if across great distances, is a voice that, as such, has never resounded forth.
Reading is a seeing of recollection and of hope, a hearing out of the imaginative power of one’s own soul. If these are alive, reading can almost take the place of the presence of the one who is distant: the letter, the book disappear; we look at the lines without seeing them; we fly above the pages as if on a magic carpet from the Thousand and One Nights.
But if these are faded and dead, the paper becomes for us a lime twig on which we remain stuck or a wall (as in Japanese houses) that separates us from the reality. The distance that separates reading from seeing becomes greater because the object is not truly present to us; the element of domination gets the upper hand because the one who reads is alone by himself, and it is easy for him to dispose of the shadowy partner. And thus, to the same degree, the urgency of the word that presses upon him is reduced: he now sees only the “objective” element of truth contained in the written word and no longer sees the existential form of its existence, which alone makes it a word.
The distinguishing mode of the revelation of reality in the individual senses remains, we have established, in the understanding intellect too. As such, this asserts something essential about the intellectual meaning of existence in the world. And thus it is right, indeed necessary, that these sensual modes should play a role both in the analogous natural knowledge of God on man’s part and in the supernatural revelation of God to man.
As far as man’s natural knowledge of God is concerned (a subject on which we shall not linger here), it can be said that this knowledge of God comes into being through the created beings, in their mirror and likeness, with certain natural abilities of the human spirit that one may conveniently call “intellectual senses”.
For the very fact that the various sensual modes stand in the sphere of the spirit means that they themselves are spiritualized, and that there exists in the human spirit a possibility of the experience of reality that corresponds to them. This does not mean that the human spirit would now suddenly possess its object in the same “intuitive” way as do the senses, seeing it, hearing it, touching it. But in the human spirit’s own particular relationship to its object-here, the act whereby God displays himself in the created being-there is something that corresponds to the mode of the clear and objective act of seeing, something else that corresponds to the mode of hearing and being affected, and something else again that corresponds to the perception of smell and of taste or to the blind awareness of touch that nevertheless brings certainty and is blessed.
We shall not spend time here on these “intellectual senses”, because they have received a priori a fulfillment in this supernaturally elevated world in which God has revealed himself, a fulfillment that goes beyond them into what the Fathers, following Origen, were accustomed to call the “spiritual senses”, sensus spiritales.
This sensual perception, which Origen described with the utmost care, is at one and the same time the fulfillment of the natural-intellectual senses (gratia perficit naturam) and a wholly new sensitivity for the modes in which the divine appears in the world, a sensitivity that is only the result of the “infusion” of grace. The spiritual senses are the human range of senses adapted to the riches and the variety of the paths taken by God in his revelation, with the capacity simultaneously to “see his glory,” “hear his word”, “breathe his fragrance”, “taste his sweetness”, “touch his presence”.
It is of course true that Origen himself gave this teaching a spiritualizing hue by bringing the bodily senses and the spiritual senses into a mutual relationship of total opposition: it is impossible, he says, for the external eyes or ears and the internal eyes or ears to be open at the same time. But a sensual character does not automatically imply sensuality in the negative sense of worldly or carnal lust; it is possible to intensify the modes of sensual perception without any rupture or inversion and bring them above themselves into the spiritual dimension. Only so is it possible to understand how a Bernard, a Francis, a Bonaventure, and an Ignatius, in their “application of the senses”, bring the mode of the intellectual-spiritual sense into action directly in the mode in which the bodily sense acts.
Thus — to take simply what is important for us here — there exist a spiritual seeing, hearing, and reading. These functions can indeed be marked off less sharply from one another, because the unity of the Spirit and of the revelation no longer permits the same degree of differentiation as in the case of the material perception of the senses, but the positive content of this difference continues to exist undiminished.
Spiritual seeing: already in nature, in which “the invisible dimension of God is seen visibly”, and far more in the human appearing of Christ, through which the essence of the Father appears: “Philip, the one who sees me sees the Father also”, in the form of a servant taken by the Crucified, through which already the light of the glory of the new age blazes: “And we have seen his glory, as the glory of the only begotten of the Father”, and, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.”
And yet this clarity, which the “Light of the world” offers to our eyes, remains concealed in the separateness of genuine human seeing: “No one has seen God”, says John’s word so decisively that it does not abolish but fulfills the word of the Old Testament: “No one can see God and live.” It is in this sense too that the greatest theologian of the spiritual seeing, Origen, interprets Paul’s word about seeing through a mirror and an enigma: all seeing here below remains nonseeing and separateness; and in Gregory of Nyssa’s mysticism of the night, the dialectic of seeing and nonseeing leads to an ultimate paradoxical equation of the two.
But this distant clarity of that which is all too real (which the truth removes from us and sets behind the veil of concepts, dogmas, and rites) aims always, through everything, at a highest encounter face to face, when we “shall know just as we have been known”, and the gaze of the Creator and the gaze of the creature shall coincide in the “glance of God’s eyes”.
In distinction from this aiming at the identity of the mutual gaze, the hearing of God takes its starting point in the knowledge that the Divine Being remains always far removed. In distinction to the clarity of the God who is “light”, it sets the darkness of the God who is inscrutable Will and Life that pours forth. Only utterances in actu of this will are revelations of God, but they pour forth upon us as such, irresistibly and urgently.
The Creator himself makes use of the defenseless and needy openness of our finite spirit, which does not bear its own object in itself but must await this passively from outside itself, in order to make himself heard by the listening ear of our spirit. “Let the one who has ears, hear!” Let him already hear God, with Augustine, as a weak, enticing music that sounds through the confused noises of the world; let him hear him as the incarnate Word on the hills of Galilee, recounting the knowledge of the Father before the thousands who hang on his lips, speaking “like one who has authority” and, even more, like one who is himself the subsisting Word.
Let him hear these human words as the revelation of the very life that flows forth in the farewell discourses like an endless wave of the sea. Then he will understand also that the blood that flows on the Cross is only the continuing parable of this intellectual life that has already been poured out in the word, the parable of the substantial blood of God, so to speak, which the spear thrust of sin caused to well up from the heart of him who is eternal.
The listening Church stands under the Word of God like the penitent woman who stands under the flowing blood of the Cross. The obedience of this act of hearing is the form of her service and of her readiness to serve. And when she herself speaks as one who teaches and proclaims, she herself listens while she speaks the word in the commission that she has received from the Word.
She brings further the pouring forth and the sound of the voice: “As the Father has sent me, so do I send you.” And therefore, the decisive attitude of the Church will be that of hearing. “Faith comes from hearing.” And the Father himself prescribes this attitude: “This is my beloved Son: listen to him.”
If the act of seeing aims, through the separateness of the mirror and the likeness, at the encounter face to face of the highest, identical mutual gaze, the act of hearing aims upward into an ever more perfect obedience and thus into a creatureliness that distinguishes itself ever more humbly from the Creator. This humility will not be abolished in all eternity, because the truth of the relationship between God and man expresses itself ever more perfectly in it.
The reading of God certainly exists, just like the seeing and the hearing of God. For Sacred Scripture is the “word” of God, not of course the word that immediately flows forth but the word objectivized in signs, which continually finds occasion in these signs for a fresh streaming forth.
In this sense, Scripture is in truth a kind of sacrament or sacramental, as Origen considered it; and even today, it is given the incensation in High Mass that is owed to the presence of God in it. And so the Lamb in the Apocalypse rests on the book with the seven seals, and the word itself reveals itself as Alpha and Omega, i.e., as the embodiment of all that can be expressed in the letters of the alphabet.
And yet it is in this form of the word as book that we clearly see the secondary element that we noted in the case of every act of reading. It is, of course, true that the Alexandrine theology saw an immediate analogy between the materialization of the Logos in the flesh and the materialization in the book: in both, the word can be touched, seen, and grasped. But here we must not overlook a threefold corrective.
First, the Alexandrines, as intellectual “Gnostics”, stand in the Tradition of Hellenizing Judaism, which had already long carried out a magical-speculative cult with the Torah that had been elevated to the status of a semi-divine being (perhaps the book symbols of the Apocalypse too are a certain echo of these speculations), a cult that is not in the least suggested by the Bible itself and that bears light traces of an intellectualism that deforms Scripture.
Further, one must recall that the book, as a material book, had no significance whatsoever for the Christian Alexandrines, since they contemplated the written word only in its immediate connection with preaching, in which alone the word of God, which is”living force and life”, receives a mystical presence.
Finally, this Biblical theology is assessed correctly only when it is given its place in the entire movement of Alexandrinism, in its striving away from the symbol to the unconcealed truth, from the flesh of the Logos (in all its forms) to the Pneuma. Accordingly, Origen basically does not spend any time at all on the act of reading; unlike the acts of seeing and hearing, the act of reading does not emerge as a positive and significant mode of the experience of reality.
Origen knows nothing of a “spiritual act of reading”. Rather, the act of reading as such is always that which is a priori disappearing before the immediacy of the presence of the word. Thus, he would never have understood the parable of Augustine, who saw in Sacred Scripture a letter that the Father sent us from our homeland “in order to enkindle in us the yearning to return home”.
Here it is separateness that takes the place of immediacy; the book becomes a vicarious representation of the absent God and becomes prominent in its material character; the act of reading as such takes on a decisive significance that can be distinguished from the acts of hearing and seeing. This change can be illustrated best by means of the similar change in the understanding of the Eucharist. For Origen, the transfigured Body of Christ, since it is pneumatic, is absolutely supraspatial and therefore resent everywhere; the Eucharist, since it is spatially limited, can be only a visible, cultic sign of this universal presence.
For Augustine, Christ’s transfigured Body is “in heaven” — surrexit, non est hic — and the Eucharist is the sacramental “substitute” for this abiding distance between the old age and the new. It is clear that, if the danger exists in Origen of springing immediately away from the text and seeking “behind” the letter a second, hidden, esoteric-pneumatic meaning, there stands in the continuation of Augustine’s understanding the no less pernicious literalism that clings to the material character of the “letter from God” and ultimately is no longer able, thanks to the sheer quantity of Biblical criticism, to perceive the message and the word.
“Spiritual reading” will therefore have to maintain its position in the oscillating midpoint that is the proper position of all genuine reading: remaining with the text only in such a way that the meaning and the person who speaks shine through it without, however, flying over the text in such a manner that one fails to read, to hear, and to see the word that is given expression in the sign.
Fundamentally, however, both types that have now emerged in the case of the act of reading are nothing other than the two great ecclesial types of the East and of the West. The East is Johannine: it is the Church of seeing. The West is synoptic-Pauline: it is the Church of hearing.
In the East, Logos means “meaning” and “idea”; in the West, it means Verbum, “word”. A Christianity that gives seeing unambiguous preeminence above hearing must also have the modality of seeing as its fundamental structure; i.e., at the basis there are the objectivity and reality, the abiding encounter between the eye and the thing.
This is why the world appears for the East fundamentally as a world of ideas and the Logos as the embodiment of all intellectual realities. The separateness that is also denoted by the act of seeing becomes clearly seen in the distinctively Eastern concept of the intermediary beings between God and the world, the heavenly and earthly hierarchies, the Byzantine-sacral court ceremonial (the liturgy does no more than transpose this into the ecclesiastical realm, just as theology transposes it into the cosmic realm), and the all-determining sense for representation. Thus the created universe becomes a great total sacrament and “mystery” in which the ecclesiastical-liturgical sacrament appears only as one particular function.
If one wishes to be convinced that it is this partial significance that is attributed to the cultic mystery, one need do no more than open the pages of Maximus the Confessor’s Mystagogy. The individual-mystical mystery and the universal-cosmic mystery stand beside the cultic mystery in a position of equal importance.
The same is fundamentally true already of the Alexandrines, while in the Cappadocians and in the theology of the desert hermits (continued as the Athos theology of the Greek Middle Ages) the cultic mystery almost totally yields place to the cosmic-individual mystery.
This can be understood only when we look upward from the basis of the objectivity of the act of seeing to the summit of the vision that is the aim of all seeing: to the unmediated encounter face to face of the creature with God, flying over all inequality of rank and qualitative difference. Theosis, deification, is the ultimate cry, the ultimate goal of Eastern Christianity, because it is the ultimate meaning of the pure vision.
This is why the East aims at (mystic-supernatural) identity, and why monophysitism is the genuinely Eastern heresy. The two or three “small” dogmatic differences between Rome and Byzantium were never more than the occasion, never the truly weighty reason, for the schism.
The Eastern Church became heretical because she handed herself over to the absolutization of the inner dynamism of the act of seeing, which points ultimately, in its upward flight, to identity with God and to negation of the world. Thus the great Eastern systems, where they are Christian, tend to the form of a “thinking backward” from a radical systemic form, which as such inclines to gnosis and pantheism. It is only where this upward flight toward identity remains bound to the form of the abiding, objective separateness, so that the basic form of creatureliness and thus an intellectual position of hearing is maintained, that the Eastern form of Christian piety remains something that cannot be lost within the sphere of the Church.
Unlike this, the Christianity of hearing knows the abiding creatureliness, obedience, and worldly character of the one who hears and a relationship of immediacy, bypassing every representative intermediary form, to the word of revelation.
The Western Church is the Church that is bowed down under the act of hearing and that inclines toward the world as an apostolic Church through the sending of the word. For this reason, she is also the Church that is visible in her abiding creatureliness as one earthly form among others, and it is no coincidence that the primacy of Peter came into view in her and not in the East.
Thus she is also the Church in a hand-to-hand struggle with the age in which she lives, defenseless and vulnerable in the act of hearing (whereas the pneumatic Eastern Church is so to speak invulnerable, because she is already the new age, no longer “of this world”).
Thus she too feels in an upward direction, not into the immediate vision, not in order to be deified but in order to have an ever closer contact with the will of God that leads her in the darkness. The comparative form that guides her is not the ever deeper sinking of the world in the presence of the light of God but the ever greater honor of God in the work of service of the world.
But for this reason she, unlike the East, tends to both heresies of hearing: either one perceive in the word of God nothing more than the ray in actu that touches us and no longer perceives the objective-visible meaning (this aspect is initiated in Augustine’s teaching on predestination and develops one-sidedly in Luther, Calvin, and Port-Royal), or else one becomes so absorbed in the service of the world that he forgets the very mission and the hearing and becomes a prisoner of this world to which he ought to have preached the word (the immanentism of the modern period).
The erring paths of the West are the actualism of the pure word and the activism of pure activity. They will be avoided only when the abiding creatureliness does not close itself up in blindness but keeps the eye of its spirit open for the objective meaning of the word that is spoken — and likewise only when service of the world does not isolate itself in a Pelagian manner from the God who gives the mission but understands itself as a sacral, “sacramental” representation of this God in the world.
Thus the entire form of the Catholic Church stands between the extreme East and the extreme West, between Athos and Wittenberg, pure vision and pure hearing.
But it is decisive that, in this entire form, the rock of Peter rests visibly in the West, in Rome — not only because the pole of visibility belongs to the West in the equilibrium between the visible and the mystical Church but more decisively because the relationship between the world and God, both in the natural order and in the supernatural order, is given more decisive expression in the form of hearing itself. The basis of the gift of the relationship between friend and friend is the abiding relationship between Lord and servant, which is fulfilled by the gift.
Let us now cross over from this wholly general sphere of the Church into her visible-liturgical sphere, and let us deduce from the ideas that have been developed here a few consequences that arise directly.
A first significant consequence shows us at once that liturgy is possible neither in the radical East nor in the radical West. Where the Eastern piety of vision displays its character perfectly translated into life, on Athos, the liturgy can be only a preparatory stage. The perfect mystic separates himself from the community monastery to withdraw into the caves on the peaks, from which the mystical light of Athos was seen shining at night. The unambiguous tendencv from Clement of Alexandria via Origen, Evagrius, both Gregories and Maximus, to transcend the visible liturgy and to find its “truth” in an individual Gnostic immediate relationship to God.
Even in Dionysius the Areopagite, the signs perceptible to the senses, to which he holds so fast, are only thin veils for a Gnostic-heavenly event: as signs they are indeed sacramental, but basically they are representative rather than themselves being efficacious.
Thus, while it is true that the Eastern liturgy, where it genuinely unfolds itself, is a liturgy of seeing, in which the believer is permitted to see, through mirror and likeness, the supra-heavenly mysteries of the new age in a great symbolic representative sequence of scenes, it is nevertheless just as characteristic that this living sequence of scenes as it were solidifies into the “wall of images”, the iconostasis — solidified like the ceremonial of the Byzantine court — and that this now divides the church interior into two, one space for the profane, uninitiated people who must be content with the “colorful reflection of the splendor” and one space for the mystic-initiated priest who always has the iconostasis at his back and already stands on the far side of all likenesses.
This is, basically, the repetition of the Alexandrine division of the believers into the “simple” (haplousteroi) and “Gnostics” or “perfect” (gnostikoi, teleioi).
But liturgy is no less impossible in the pure West, because the pure word makes all objectivization in image and sacrament impossible.
Thus the Protestant has nothing more than the pulpit and the seats for those who listen. And if we consider the other heresy of the West, that of activism in the world, then we shall not be wrong if we put the blame for this on the faded lifelessness and hurriedness that is so often found in Catholic worship. Where the world devours all our interest, even half an hour on Sunday is long; the sermon is reduced to a minimum, the ceremonies shrink, and thus ultimately even here the individual believer is left to his own resources, to his prayerbook, his missal, or his Rosary.
The visible element of the liturgy is simplified until it is almost nothing more than a formal presence at the Holy Mass, while the mystical element of the liturgy is simplified to the point of becoming an interior recollection during this half-hour of lonely prayer.
It is neither the extreme idea of the East nor that of the West that will show us what liturgy truly is, but only the total form of the Church of East and West.
This Church is fundamentally both creaturely and visible, formed of worldly beings who have no need of being ashamed that they belong to the world, since Jesus Christ took on a full, human, and worldly nature. Thus it is above all the iconostasis that falls away if a true liturgy is to be celebrated, since the iconostasis excludes what is worldly as profane (”pro-fane” means outside the sanctuary) from what is sacred.
As Maximus the Confessor describes it, nave and altar, nave and pulpit form an inner unity with an analogy to the two natures, which are not reduced by their unity in Christ. On the basis of this weighty foundation, in which the Western Roman element predominates over the Eastern, the further equilibrium between East and West is now built up in harmonious balance.
This is initially the equilibrium between seeing and hearing, “sacrament” and “word”, objective and existential event of salvation. Against the all too Western tendencies, it will be necessary to emphasize the sacramental significance even of the sermon (as Origen understood this); the sermon is not only a moral-ethical exhortation and edification but also a true act of making present the Divine Word itself, and further, it will be necessary to emphasize that the coming transfigured world is made present in a real and representative manner through the sacramental total event of the liturgy.
Against the overemphasized Eastern tendencies, it must be maintained that this presence of the new age is not the presence of a Platonic-pneumatic realm beyond this world that stands in no relationship to the present, lost world — in the manner, for example, in which a Russian icon floats as a transcendental “idea” above the real world of every day, to which it bears no relationship — but rather that it is precisely the real world of every day that is to be transfigured and transformed, i.e., that this real world must appropriate salvation to itself existentially in the sacramental event and transform the gift of grace into a moral-ethical life.
Thus, just as both sacrament and word are “sacramental” in the Eastern sense, so both are also an “existential sermon” in the Western sense, the urgent word of God.
This implies a second equilibrium: against the Western type, it must be said that the liturgical event is not only a a temporally and spatially limited act within the church building, out of which the Christian can take at most a couple of good resolutions for his apostolic activity in daily life; rather, the Church’s liturgy is the form that concentrates the total liturgy of the world, which includes all daily life and in which the Christian has the liturgical function of effectively representing the divine in the world through his whole being.
But against the Eastern type it must be objected that an act of representing God in the world that is limited to one’s being is not enough, or indeed is quite impossible, unless the being is also an actively formed being that has been made one’s own ethically and streams forth in the act of apostolic proclamation. The East is right to say that we must continue our act of worship in our daily life without any break of continuity, but the West sees more clearly that we must do this not as walking icons but as utterly everyday and genuinely secular human beings.
The final equilibrium is a direct consequence of this. Since the Church is not a mystical reality existing beyond this world, no heavenly pneumatic fellowship of the elect (as the extreme East is inclined to believe, e.g., among the Old Believers, and the extreme West in Protestantism) but a genuine, visible fellowship based on the genuine and visible Incarnation-therefore the Church’s liturgy too is, to begin with, a genuinely worldly function among other functions, and the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and to make ones Easter duties is indeed often an uncomfortable or even heroic profession of faith in the visible Roman Church.
Therefore, genuine life of the senses and hearing has its abiding place in this liturgy. The sacramental event ought to unfold visibly in as beautiful and worthy a form as possible. If it is the case that, thanks to an increasing clericalization and a corresponding exclusion of the people, not only their ability to see truly in the Church but likewise the possibility to see anything objective and symbolic at all (since it is scarcely there to be seen) have strangely atrophied, then it is not possible to lament this state of affairs seriously enough.
The same is true of the sermon, or even of the simple reading aloud of the word of God: both on the part of the preacher and on the part of the listening people, there is seldom the awareness that here the personal word is being made present, the direct continuation of the sending of the Son by the Father.
This would, therefore, be first of all a matter of a new feeling on the part of the priest for the significance of sensual speaking and acting, and a new feeling on the part of the people for sensual hearing and seeing. But such a recovery must now take place explicitly in the sphere of the real and worldly Church, not in the sphere of an Eastern Church that is caught up out of the world, for otherwise one would cultivate only a falsely sacred awareness that engaged in an aesthetic flight from the world, feeling itself to be the holy community of the Lord thanks to a few well-drilled gestures or chants-but this would collapse in the face of the raw wind that blows outside the church door.
The only way to attain an appropriate behavior on the part of the congregation in the liturgical celebration is not from the outside, through reforming and practicing new things in the limited liturgical sphere, but through education to a new sensual-intellectual total awareness of the Western-Eastern Church in her reality.
Since we are in the sphere of the Church, the new sensual seeing and hearing, which as such is predominantly Western, will have to change itself and interiorize itself directly into a spiritual perception and encounter with God. The Johannine Church is the secret heart of the Church of Peter.
The rite exists for the sake of the inner mystery; the visible sacrifice of the Church exists for the sake of the invisible sacrifice on the Cross; when man remembers God, God remembers man and comes down to him. The spiritual seeing and hearing too must be learned anew, for God wishes to be met by the entire human person, body and soul. But our inner eyes are closed inertly; the inner ears are stopped shut. The word of Scripture, which has been heard too often, “says nothing to us any more”, just like the celebration of the Mass. Here the Eastern Church can teach us secularized Westerners, if we attempt to accomplish in our own sphere what she possesses in hers.
One more word about the book and the act of reading. The German “Volksschott-Bewegung” the movement that aimed to spread the use of a Latin-German missal among the laity, wanted to break down the invisible iconostasis between the people and the altar or pulpit and to create for the people a direct participation in the altar and the word.
This movement took insufficient account of the fact that the people that stream into the church are not people who know how to read like Augustine or like Origen. For us moderns, a book is entertainment, distraction, instruction — in one or the other form, a substitute for real life.
We vanish in the book; we forget ourselves while we read. The men of old read aloud, even when alone: they brought reality to the word in the sign. Something akin to shame or anxiety prevents us from reading aloud to ourselves: this would have existential consequences. We would be forced, while hearing ourselves, to perceive what we read sensually, intellectually, spiritually as “true”.
Our relationship to a book is quite different from that which still existed in the case of Goethe or Holderlin, to say nothing of earlier generations. De facto, the “Schott” missal has become a kind of new iconostasis for us. We follow the real unfolding of the liturgy or the Scripture reading in it, as the general follows the military maneuvers on the map or the traveling snob follows the landscape in his Baedeker guide. We control the situation and thereby stand outside it. We have the word in black on white, but the word does not have us. We grasp; we are not ourselves grasped. We hold the libretto in our hand and could prompt “priest” and “people”, but we ourselves are not “people” or “priest”.
Something similar is true of the “Biblical movement”. The intention was to bring the people into contact with the immediate word of God. The people received an inexpensive book that was also designed to speak to them in the most popular way possible. But when the people lost their timidity in the presence of the Bible, they also lost their reverence for it; the Bible is no longer the big, heavy book fitted with clasps, high up on a shelf out of reach of the children, out of which the father would read aloud a couple of sentences in the evening before one went to bed; now it lies in a corner, covered with dust, among a thousand other pamphlets, novels, and grammar books.
The act of reading is even more strongly atrophied among us than the acts of seeing and hearing. It will be very difficult to vitalize the great primary functions of the senses through reading, which always plays a secondary, vicarious role. And yet our eyes and ears must open themselves, in order to perceive the presence of the Lord and his mission in the sphere of the Church and thereby to become capable of understanding the present day of the world too as a present day of God and a kairos of the Church.
If the mass of the people are no longer capable of this, then the individuals must achieve it. If even their senses lose their sharpness in the oncoming roar of civilization, then they must learn anew to look inward and to hear within, in order to begin from there to give form to their external sensual perception also, both their own and that of the Church. This is possible, because the God of the living, who allowed his Son to become a man, is a God for men. “What we have seen, heard, and touched of the Word of life, this we make known to you, so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 Jn 1:1-3).
Every living Christian who has encountered God can speak these words in order to point others to the God who gave men senses in order that they might feel after him: “I planted the ear in man — am I not to hear? I formed the eye — am I not to see?” (Ps 93:9). “The hearing ear, the seeing gaze: God has made both of these” (Prov 20:12).