Self-emptying Kenosis

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The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians that the mind of Christ does not grasp at divinity, as if equality with God was something to be possessed, but empties itself.  That is, Christ empties himself to take the form of a servant, created in the likeness of men.  Being found in the form of a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, death on the Cross (Phil 2:5-8).  This self-emptying KENOSIS of Christ reveals the uncreated mind of Christ, which is God’s self-revelation of the Name above all names,’I AM.’  At this Name of Jesus, (YAH SHUAH, ‘I AM’ SAVES), every knee shall bow, in heaven or on earth, or under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (‘He who is I AM’) to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11).  It is the Holy Spirit who bears witness with our spirit that in the Name, ‘I AM,’ we are by grace children of God, crying ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom 8:15-16).  The Name above all names unveils ‘I AM.’ the Son in us, to the glory of God the Father, whose Name is ‘I AM.’  The uncreated mind of self-emptying KENOSIS is the non-dual mind of ‘I AM.’  Christ’s self-emptying as God is the self-emptying of God, the revelatory, unselfish love revealed by God on the Cross, which reveals that God’s glory is self-emptying KENOSIS.  It is as God that God the Son empties himself of God.  God the Son reveals God to be self-emptying, revealing ‘I AM,’ which is God’s Name, to be radical self-emptying.  The Logos of God is self-emptying love, which means that Logos is not Logos except as self-emptying love.

Saint Sophrony the Hesychast frequently referred to the mysteries of Christ’s self-emptying in Philippians 2:5-11, which he saw as a divine as well as a human self-emptying, revealing a reciprocity between our deification and God’s self-emptying. Father Sergius Bulgakov integrated divine self-emptying in Schelling’s ‘Philosophy of Revelation’ (1841-2), with Patristic teaching on the self-emptying of the Son, seeing a self-emptying of the Father in his generation of the Son, mirrored by the Son’s self-emptying union and the Spirit’s self-emptying communion with the Father.  The KENOSIS of the Father and the Spirit enabled Bulgakov to discern self-emptying everywhere, inspiring Saint Sophrony , who knew him in Paris, to see KENOSIS at the heart of first personhood in God.  The KENOSIS of God unveils kenotic personhood in us, a theme which Saint Silouan the Athonite, his spiritual elder, discerned in self-emptying self-condemnation to hell without despair.  Saint Silouan saw this self-emptying as a Christ-like humility, which Saint Sophrony saw as a kenotic participation in Christ’s self-emptying.  Awakening to ‘I AM’ empties us of every created characteristic, opening us to the grace of deification.  The degree of self-emptying corresponds to the depth of uncreated glorification, which Saint Sophrony sees as a descent into hell that corresponds to glory’s heavenly ascent.  The infernal depth and the celestial height are commensurate with one another as self-emptying depth corresponding to deification on high.

When the Nicene Creed affirms that the Son is of one substance with the Father, it follows that the KENOSIS of the Son co-inheres with the KENOSIS of the Father.  The truth of ‘I AM’ is KENOSIS, for Christ is who he is only by radical negation of who he is, death on the Cross, then his negation of that negation, his resurrection from the dead.  In the image of this KENOSIS, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).  Theologia Crucis and Theologia Gloriae are one mystery, or two sides of the same mystery which is the ineffable mystery of self-emptying love.  The KENOSIS of the Holy Name of God, ‘I AM,’ reveals the self-emptying of God, a self-emptying of the Father revealed by the self-emptying Son.  Since the Father is the ultimate ground of love, the Father is the source of self-emptying love. The Son is self-emptying love in the express image of the Father, who is self-emptying love.  The Father empties himself when he generates the Son and the Father empties himself when the Spirit proceeds from the Father to abide in the Son.  Through the Spirit, who is self-emptying love, Christ bears witness to the glory of self-emptying love.  This mutual reciprocal self-emptying in God is unconditional and ultimate, as is the double negation, neither monism nor dualism, which bears witness to KENOSIS in Holy Trinity.  God is God only by not being the reified God which usurps God, monistic or dualistic reifications substituting themselves for God, usurping God on the throne of the heart.

If God releases reification by virtue of being the wisdom of self-emptying love, creation in God’s image is divine self-emptying, a created but translucent expression of deifying self-emptying love.  If the divine essence is reified and divorced from divine energies, the essence appears to resist KENOSIS and even reifies a dualistic separation from the deifying energies.  But if the divine essence is an apophatic mystery, it empties all reifications of both essence and energy in God, releasing reified theism together with reified metaphysics, opening to the mystery of divine indivisibility without trace of reified monism or reified dualism.  Self-emptying love surrenders all theistic as well as atheistic reification, opening to dynamic co-inherence rather than a reified, substantial essence.  Does this mean that the divine essence is not substantial or that as self-emptying essence it releases reifications such as substantial and insubstantial?  Conceptual objectification is purified by apophatic release when the desert tradition heeds the Logos of the Cross of self-emptying love.  God’s self-revelation is inherently as well as co-inherently self-emptying KENOSIS.  God’s dynamic energies unveil a dynamic KENOSIS that does not contradict the dynamic KENOSIS of God in Holy Trinity but manifests it everywhere and in everything.

The self-emptying of God is revealed in the ineffability of self-emptying love, which is present everywhere and co-inheres in everything, revealing the ineffability of KENOSIS everywhere and in everything.  Awe-struck wonder is amazed by this ineffable self-emptying of everything, this vision of God that sees through reification everywhere and in everything.  The wisdom of the Cross empties everything of reification, releasing confusion into union, division into co-inherent communion.  Wisdom is fundamentally and inherently self-emptying and the mystery of first-personhood in God is fundamentally and inherently self-emptying.  ‘I AM’ is not a reified ‘me,’ nor is ‘I AM’ this or that reification of me, transcending reification altogether.  God’s Name releases all reifications of God so as to reveal God beyond reification.  Indeed, the Name is boundless openness revealing boundless openness.  The Spirit empties himself in his witness to the Son, who empties himself in the image of the Father.  The Father is the ultimate origin of self-emptying in the Son and the Spirit, and Godhead is none other than shared self-emptying, which is love’s glory revealed by the Cross.  Self-emptying love is divine life lived divinely, whether in God or in us.  The immanence of this transcendence is the transcendence of all reified immanence.  The self-emptying of God is not to be confused with nihilistic emptiness, with an atheistic death of God, or with any sort of nihilism spawned by materialistic secularism.  Dynamic self-emptying is the wisdom and glory of self-emptying love, which is wisdom discerning the self-emptying glory of the Cross.

Masao Abe offers two aphorisms that express the aporetic paradox of Christianity and Buddhism:  “God is ‘dazzling darkness,’ because in God, who is infinite love, self-emptying as it is, is self-fulfilment, self-fulfilment as it is, is self-emptying.  Sunyata is ‘dazzling darkness,’ because in Sunyata, which is boundless openness, samsara as it is, is nirvana, nirvana as it is, is samsara” (Masao Abe: Divine Emptiness 1995 p 242).  The completeness of God indwells self-emptying love like ‘dazzling darkness,’ ineffable radiance, aporetic paradox transcending reification (Col 1:19).  ‘I AM’ is neither something nor nothing, revealing God to be neither being nor nothing.  The ‘dazzling darkness’ of the paradox of divine humanity is irreducible to any conceptual synthesis, because self-emptying is ultimate.  True KENOSIS empties self-emptying of every reification of emptiness, turning both theism and atheism inside out, turning clashing religions into convergent wisdoms.  The middle path of wholesome Logos neither reifies its assertions nor reifies its denials.  If self-emptying is ultimate, without closure, then form is emptied of reified confusions and emptiness is indivisibly not other than form.  Mahayana logic, in the Heart Sutra, is a logic that liberates but so is the aporetic logic of all genuine wisdom.  Chalcedonian logic in Holy Orthodoxy is none other than the wisdom of primordial Logos, curing every extremism and every war of words with the wholesome critical tension of sound wisdom.  Neither monism nor monotheism, neither pantheism nor polytheism, the ‘dazzling darkness’ of self-emptying completeness is neither reified immanence nor reified transcendence.  ‘Dazzling darkness’ is not half dark and half light, but like Christ, wholly uncreated and wholly created.  The co-inherence of KENOSIS and completeness is a healing co-incidence of opposites through mutual, reciprocal self-emptying, total self-emptying that unveils total completeness.

Without wisdom and the praxis of theoria that turns and sees, there is the thought or an image (icon) of self-emptying, but not the self-emptying of the created into the uncreated and the self-emptying of the uncreated into the created.  Without wisdom, there is no union of the created in the uncreated and no communion of the uncreated with the created.  Without wisdom there is no illumination and so no glorification, which is not a notional praise but a real self-emptying of the created into the uncreated and of the uncreated into the created.  Wisdom beholds this mystery wherever she turns.  Wisdom discerns this union in every perception, hallowing the heart with purest self-emptying.  Wisdom discerns the glory of grace by seeing the uncreated in the created and the created in the uncreated.  It is wisdom that discerns the divine in the human without confusion, with the human in the divine without division, turning notional Christology into experienced Christophany.  It is wisdom who dwells in the Holiest of Holies, where the uncreated weds with the created as Bridegroom and the created conjoins with the uncreated as Bride in the Bridal Chamber.  It is wisdom that sings a Song of Songs that perceives union everywhere, experiencing communion in timeless presence conjoined with timeless awareness.  Without wisdom, glorification remains an inaccessible future and self-emptying a notional icon of glory still to come.  Actual self-emptying is glory’s gift of uncreated grace that wisdom discerns as glorification, divine self-emptying and human self-emptying conjoined in wisdom as glory.  Self-emptying KENOSIS is an ineffable mystery of glorification, utterly free of mystification, conjoining the uncreated with the created so that the created experiences deification.