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Volume 2, No. 1:

Interview with Stanley Rosen
The Resurrection of Hell

Madonna, Harlot & Modern Woman
Lessons of Kosovo

The Big C
Role of Philosophy in 21C Education
On Holiness and Responsibility
Zen & the Art of Teaching
Language as the Translation of Being
Core Curriculum & Diversity
A Letter from Morocco


On Holiness And Responsibility

Bogoljub Šijakovic

1. Both religious studies and the history of religions represent reliable sources of information as to what people in different times regarded as being holy and which beings, phenomena, and objects were given this attribute. The accumulated knowledge provided by the mentioned disciplines is at the same time burdened with the danger of equating the abstract concept of the holy with all kinds of forms of religious experience - the concept of the holy in totemism is indubitably qualitatively different from that in Christianity. All this naturally leads to a psychologistic interpretation of our feeling of the holy, i.e., the mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinosum described by Rudolf Otto in his book The Idea of the Holy. Holiness should be protected from the philosophy of religion in the same way as responsibility must be protected from the moral philosophy; the integrity of both experiences cannot be understood through the reductive approach of psychologism.

2. The semantic and etymological analyses provided by philology can show us those words that in different languages mean ‘holiness’: the Hebrew word qadoš means that God was above everything created and that everything created belonged to God. The Greek word hieros means ‘sacred’: that which belongs to God and is dedicated to him. Likewise in Latin the words sacer, sacrum mean dedicated to God; hosios means ‘hallowed’, worthy of respect (similar to Latin sanctus) and, when it applies to people, it means ‘pious’. Hagios means ‘holy’ when it relates to objects, places, persons, angels, Christ, God; the important and the interesting: in the New Testament, Christians are named hagioi – ‘holy men’, since they received the gifts from the Holy Spirit.

3. Yet what kind of ‘reality’ underlies all those words for an individual who is rooted in the Christian faith? At this point it should be made clear that Holiness is not just an attribute that could be ascribed to beings, phenomena, objects, or places, so that they would supply it with the ontological bearer. Holiness means the most real and the most complete Being. Holiness is the primary ‘reality’. Holiness is not some property of God but the essence of the endless fullness of the Divine Being. That is why the Christian God is named as the Holy Trinity and the third person of the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit. I would like to emphasize that naming here is an ontological act: When God discloses himself to Moses He says: I am who I am (Ex. 3.14); and when Jesus speaks about his identity he uses the phrase – "I am" where "I am" is an ontological quantifier. God’s Name is not just a name. It is existence. That is why the name contains Holiness too (cf. Lev. 20.3, Lk. 1.49). Therefore the Holy God is holy by himself, by his nature (and being a Person he is holy by his own will). The metaphor of light coming out of itself, (as it is expressed in the Nicene Creed), refers to its ontic self-originality. It is only on the basis of an intransitive and concentrated holiness that He is transitively and expansively holy, i.e., in other beings and objects, and for men too. We do not ascribe this Holiness to anything, but we get to know it because it reveals itself to us out of its own will: Hierophany is Theophany. This means that the epiphany of the Holy is not anything symbolic but the uttermost being. Hierophany founds the world ontologically: in order for something to exist it has to be sacred. It is only then that the ‘reality’ subsumes a full ontological and existential sense: space exists only if founded in the alter as the sacred space, if it is sanctified by the sacrifice; time exists if it is derived from the holy time of the beginning. We become holy by Holiness when we take Holy Communion: the bread and the wine do not have just symbolic meaning but they posses the force of ontic validity, the fullness of being.

4. The Holiness that Christians encounter in their religious experience is personal. Religious experience as the encounter with the Holy is the relation between persons, a relationship of ‘I–Thou’ quality. For Christians Holiness cannot be experienced beyond the encounter between two persons, beyond the communion. However, it is impossible to experience Holiness beyond this relation since Holiness is the relation itself: the Holy Trinity means this relation, the communication, the comm-union of the three persons. In this communion of love Christians in the ontological sense participate primarily in the Eucharist. Therefore Christians are ‘holy’, which does not imply a moral meaning of their being without sin. Being holy should be ascribed an ontological meaning: their identity is determined by their participation in the new communion of those congregated in Christ, in the communion of those who take Eucharist with Christ. Christians are invoked to become holy by the very fact that they are sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 1.2, Phil. 1.1, 4.21); they are holy in the presence of the Holy Spirit in them (1 Cor. 3.16, Eph. 2.22) since they are baptized in the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3.16, Acts 1.5, 11.16); because they are participants of the Divine Holiness (Heb. 12.10) and through being communicants in God’s Nature (2 Pet. 1.4). Man’s communion and his participation in the Divine Holiness should not be attributed to human nature but should be interpreted only as God’s grace. According to St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures XXIII, 19): "It is true that only holy is the One who is by nature holy; and we are holy too, but not by nature but by sharing, and by endeavor, and by prayer."

5. The grace of the Divine Holiness is the expression of the God’s Love: we are chosen in love (agape) to become holy (Eph. 1.4); God’s chosen people are holy and loved (Col. 3.12). Holiness means both giving and receiving love. Holiness is both an unearned gift and its responsible acceptance. The response to this giving and receiving of love must again be love. Love is responsibility with respect to Holiness and the fitting response to the primordial and original endowed love: "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4.19). He who refuses this offered love actually renounces holiness and desires to be freed from responsibility. He renounces the invocation to be saved (1 Pet. 1.16): "You shall be holy, for I am holy." It is in responding to this invocation, in our responsibility to Holiness that our personhood exists dynamically.

6. Literally speaking, re-spons-ibility is a linguistic reaction to the question of the other person: ‘responsibility’, ‘responsabilité’, ‘responsabilità’ (from Latin re-spondeo – to respond). Our task is not to draw conclusions about some reality stemming from the word ‘responsibility’ – on the contrary that word is shaped in such a way that it describes that reality: re-sponsibility is communication, re-sponsibility is dialogue (dialogos). In communication and dialogue the existence of the supposed Other (Logos) is the prerequisite for responsibility: we are responsible owing to the existence of the Other who endows us with it but who cannot absolve us from it or who cannot take it over from us.

7. Responsibility is the relation, i.e., a triadic relation. I am responsible for the other and I am responsible before the Third, who is the primordial or original Other and that at the same time means the First. His otherness and the pre-otherness of the Other are irreducible but not complete: what we are dealing with here is the Personhood with whom we share a communion. It is at that instance that I found the justification for my own action and it is before that instance that I take upon myself the responsibility for others. But this instance does not impose responsibility upon myself as duty or subjugate me. In my will for responsibility, which is only active in communication with the other, lies the basis of my responsibility for the other. Responsibility is therefore the essence of the human existence and not just an attribute. Man exists in re-sponsibility by the mere act of his ex-sistence (ex-sisto) or by being ec-static and because he is oriented towards the other to whom he re-sponds and by doing so he is able to constitute his personhood. Responsibility is a mode of personalizing man’s being, his existence in the relation which constitutes him, i.e., in re-sponding of one person to the other. Responsibility assumes communion because personhood is a communion. Without communion there is no responsibility.

8. By disrupting the original communion between man and god we seek to escape from responsibility. When there is no communion with the Holy, when there is no primeval relation that constitutes us in our personhood, then we base ourselves on our individuality, which implies that we attempt to justify and defend our individuality to ourselves. It is in this sense that the primordial sin should be interpreted for which man is responsible and whose consequences he should readily take upon himself because they relate to our identity and integrity. Every human being is in its own idiosyncratic way situated in the universality of sin and it is there that he can delineate the elements of his identity. When sin and shame (as awareness of sin) conflate, morality results as their product. Morality sets out to replace this lost responsibility, it seeks to bridge the disrupted communion of Holiness and Love. This is why responsibility is no longer interpreted ontologically as the communion between persons but rather viewed morally and psychologically as accountability (capacity for conscious and voluntary action), as justification of complex processes of responsible individual acts, deontologically as imperative duty, and also legally and politically as having legitimate jurisdiction. In such cases the true meaning of responsibility is obscured; it ceases to be understood as an authentic condition but is regarded as something that has to be imposed as duty and obligation. In this sense, responsibility is not any longer man’s ontological determination, but a form of subjugation in which we are performing explicit duties and are obliged to adhere to prescribed norms (instance responsibility). However this is not the instance in relation (in re-sponse) to which I am constituted as a whole person. And it is not in this kind of relation by which is subsumed the secret of freedom. My relation to this instance is that it makes me function by assigning diverse social roles to me. Instead of the personhood sustaining our entire being, we become individuals wearing various masks corresponding to the various roles we play. Instead of that responsibility which possesses us as an unalienable mode of our existence, we are allocated responsibilities that we have to account for but from which we can also be exempted. In fact that responsibility can be transferred to some other individual or be taken upon oneself. Transferable responsibility, which we can give up or which can be denied us, which can be delegated to us by institutions or be delegated to them, such responsibility does not originate in our will for responsibility but is another name for the conditions of social functionalization to which we are subjected. This functionalization cannot be escaped but can be understood and accepted. In this lies a very unique responsibility: personhood, which is unique and irreducible and cannot be equated with any of the roles (nor for all of them at the same time) in the world. Our acceptance of only individual responsibility means renouncing the authentic responsibility, renouncing personhood, freedom and dignity respectively. A final form of the escape from the responsibility is theodicy (questioning God’s responsibility for the evil in the world), as well as any such philosophy of history which frees us from responsibility in the history; contrary to this our responsibility means responding to the question of anthropodicy. Not even God himself can assume our personal responsibility for the doings and decisions performed out of our own free will.

9. Personal responsibility is always concrete and as such is based in existence itself and not simply on some special ethics of ‘ought’ or in the sphere of psychology, moral or law respectively. Responsibility exists before any deed, any act, and it is effective before action. Acting responsibility is power, force and courage for responsibility; it incites us to act responsibly and to accept concrete responsibility. Responsibility presupposes the ability to act while enjoying freedom, and it also has to do with being prepared to accept the consequences of such actions. This means that responsibility is the awareness of responsibility as well as the awareness of freedom. This implies that responsibility is related to an awareness of the identity and integrity of the person. That is why we plead for the awareness of the consequences of responsible action: the consequences relate to the identity of the person. Personhood is not manifested in the automatic materialization of the human potentials but through free and responsible decision based on concrete existential situations (situational responsibility). When we make decisions we pledge our sacred personhood. Responsibility does not consist of the simple fulfillment of an obligation or in acting towards some easily predicted and conquerable knowledge; if this were the case, it would be but a calculated procedure with an expected outcome. Rather, the reliable basis of responsibility is within us. It cannot be found in anything that is the subject matter of the decision making process.

10. Man exercises those situational responsibilities that are assigned not only to a concrete existence but are also immanent in the context of concrete historical community. That idea is even contained in the Christian understanding of history: history is the location for the free and responsible person to act. After the history of Jesus Christ, history itself has become a drama of man’s making use of his freedom and responsibility, the drama of his salvation of mankind and every human godlike person respectively. Christ’s incarnation implies undertaking historically conditioned human existence, and is at the same time theophany and hierophany, since real historic time is made holy. (Desacralization of this time sanctified in Christ is equivalent to the belief that time is but duration which ends in death.) When Christ simultaneously entered the world and history, then eternity entered the temporal: this meant that history received an eschatological meaning. This is how responsibility in history should be interpreted: in every transient moment we are responsible to eternity. That is the sense of history and that is where our own responsibility in history lies. The historical revelation of the Man-God, Jesus Christ (Jn. 1.14): "The Logos became flesh…" is an opportunity for responsibility to return through holiness from the sphere of morality to the sphere of ontology, namely to the communion with God whose call we are expected to respond.


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