Union with Christ for the Aging
Contrary to current transhumanist, medical, and cultural perspectives that aging is something solely to lament or even eradicate, this work explores the meaning of aging and death from the perspective of Christian theology, particularly within the schema of St. Augustine and Karl Barth. Both authors describe the complexity of aging in terms of our curse and calling as creatures aimed at participation in God through union with Christ. Locating Christology as central to our understanding of aging illuminates the ways in which the God revealed in Christ enters our humanity, sharing in our vulnerability, dependency, frailty, and even passivity. By turning to the incarnation, Christ's nature and work not only give us future hope, but transforms the daily aging experience - both active and passive waiting within our present, temporal reality for aging individuals and their surrounding communities. By maintaining union with God through contemplation and action, Christ dignifies our status as receptive and active agents. Thus, building from these two authors, I argue that aging serves as a sign and preparation for Sabbath rest by which aging persons might enact virtue through their specific vocation before God. Likewise, those persons surrounding the aging are called to enact virtues that reciprocally respond through interdependent communities that give and receive in union with Christ. Chapter One opens with preliminary questions on the meaning of death and aging while Chapter Two delineates Augustine's view on these realities as a result of the fall and original sin. However, even in Augustine's negative view of death and aging, he highlights the good in the soul/body relation and resurrected bodies. His position legitimizes grief and the human emotions, thus offering an ethics of compassion in loss. Finally, I constructively locate the positive view of aging and death is its sign and preparation for eternal Sabbath rest. Chapter Three considers Barth's analysis of death and aging as both negative and positive, evil and good through his dialectical lens. While death is a sign of judgment, finitude constitutes human identity as good in our temporal end. His ethics mirrors his anthropology in protecting life while accepting limits. He ends by describing the three stages of life including youth, middle age, and old age as composing our vocation. Each stage includes our call before God that legitimizes agency for the old as well as interdependent relationships. Chapters Four and Five explore the Christology of Augustine and Barth. Christ's divine and human natures bring together wisdom and knowledge for Augustine in Chapter Four. Aging persons grow in wisdom and knowledge through contemplation and action in union with Christ. Not only does union with Christ become the foundation for moral agency, but Christ also achieves the benefits for aging persons through his incarnation and atoning work. Christ experiences psychological anguish and forsakenness before God as the Totus Christus. Aging persons also receive the benefits of Christ's person and work that reverses the consequences of aging and death. Chapter Five claims that participation in Christ serves as the key to understanding Barth's Church Dogmatics. God's movement to humanity and our movement to God are embodied in the hypostatic union. Here we see Christ's active agency in his divine humility/obedience through the incarnation and atoning work. Christ's passive agency or human response perfectly embodies gratitude, prayer, and obedience through union with the Spirit in fulfilling his vocation in time. Moreover, in congruence with the work of W.H. Vanstone, Jesus' passive agency that receives the activity of the world legitimizes dignity and worth for those aging stages of life involving decline and dependence. Aging persons are agents who are active and passive, giving and receiving through a mixture of contemplation (prayer) and activity in union with Christ. Finally, Chapter Six synthesizes the Christology and participation present in the theologies of Augustine and Barth as the foundation for a moral virtue theory as it applies to aging persons and their surrounding communities. By emphasizing union with Christ in Augustine's virtue theory and union with Christ in Barth's morality of `vocation,' I argue moral agents are contemplative/acting persons intended for union with God. By receiving and giving in relationship with God and others, aging persons and their communities embody virtues that reciprocally benefit one another. Virtues for the aging include humility, gratitude, generosity, wisdom, prudence, memory, friendship, fortitude, and hope. Virtues for those communities surrounding aging persons entail respect, justice, mercy, and love.