Imagine what it would be. Christ became incarnated, grew up, walked around tiny towns of Judea, miraculously healing the sick, vanquishing evil spirits, telling the crowds that “blessed are the poor” and “turn the other chick”. He would do this in a very general way, as someone who has a mission, the words to deliver to the general audience. He would do what was described in the Gospels but would do that without relating to others. No, He would not be silent when the apostles woke Him up when they thought their boat was sinking – He would simply say “waves, be quiet” and then, without adding “why do you have such little faith?” to the apostles return back to his cushion.
Actually, He could still say those words but in a very impersonal way, without truly connecting with his disciples, heart to heart. One can say “I love you” in a way that another feels being stabbed, so obvious is the lie. He could also enter Jerusalem without making personal points and, in the same non-relating way, become crucified and die. He could, as well, pray for those who crucified Him but do this in an empty way, just because the Son of God must say those words. It is fitting His previous teaching. A Christian must pray for the enemies, and He also must give us an example – perhaps He uttered those words just for that reason. He could say them silently; after all, the Father still would hear Him.
The striking thing about the Gospels is that they do not say, as the novels do, anything about how the people there look, or about their intonation etc. but they are all somehow very alive and very visible. They are visible and come to a life via the response of Christ to them. An impersonal “woman with an issue of blood” who touched the hem of His cloth in a hope of a cure becomes, via His response to her, very clearly visible to us in His words “go daughter, your faith saved you”.
Noteworthy, Christ in that episode (as it is related in the Gospel of Mark) seems to need to see the one who touched Him and this is why He asks who did it and continues to insist despite the very reasonable statement of the apostles that He is in the middle of a crowd and everyone presses Him so how can they – and He – know. Obviously, since He had no trouble seeing Nathaniel under the fig tree before Nathaniel was called, by Philip, to come to see Him [and even before Nathaniel was born] He did not need to physically see the one who touched Him. It appears that He wants a woman who hid herself in the crowd to come out for the sole purpose of relating to each other in person, via the act of seeing each other. By that very act of His we see that woman now as she is under the magnifying glass. She literally pops up from the pages of the Gospels. It is quite astonishing because no “literary methods” of description etc. is employed like the description of the woman’s face, how she looked at Christ etc. She is alive to us because He saw her soul, “your faith saved you”. She knows she was seen = her soul was seen by Him and she feels fully alive, and we feel it as well.
There is something else there. In that little fragment the woman with the issue of blood is as “big” or clear or convincing, a figure, as Christ. He does not look down to her but simply relates. Much more can be said about this episode, I only would like to highlight that the woman believed in Christ already, and she obtained her cure already, by mere touching His cloth i.e. being “non-seen” by Him and not seeing Him, not engaging eyes-to-eyes and soul-to soul. However, it was not enough, from Christ’s point of view. The theme of Him healing others and then looking intently into them, searching for the response not to “Him a great teacher”, not to “Him a miracle worker” etc. but to Him as He is, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Person fully human and fully divine, appears in the multitude of His interaction with the others.
One especially telling example comes to a mind, when after restoring the sight to a blind man Christ later finds him and asks “do you believe in the Son of God?” “And who is he so I would believe in him?” – asks the former blind man. “It is the One who is speaking to you”. And then something happens, via the former blind man looking at Christ and Christ – at him, a moment of recognition of Him, something many Christians can relate to because they experienced it themselves, including via reading those very encounters. The glimpses into the Person of Christ, human and divine, made visible via His relating to other persons and those others relating to Him is precisely what makes it possible for us to connect with Him and to recognise Him as such. Again, Christ did not say: “do you believe in the Son of God because He returned your sight?” (a spectacular miracle it is, prophets could do this as well; this is why the former blind man thought Him to be a prophet, “a man of God”) but He asks “do you believe in the Son of God = Me Whom you see in front of you?” [It is almost as the restoration of the physical sight was necessary so the blind could see = could relate; of course the physically blind can and do believe in Christ, I am discussing strictly “seeing” understood as “relating to the other”] The transformation of a human being into one who believes in Christ takes a place not in a moment of cure or other interferences of the Divine into a human life but in the moment of the response of a human psyche to the attempt of the Divine to communicate, in the Person of Christ. The words “God the Person Who relates to the other person and wants to be related to as the Person by the other person” are the key.
It is so important that I cannot highlight it enough: this response of a human being is always a response to the demand for that response, by Christ, Who addresses each person individually. But there is even more: not only Christ relates, He is desperate to relate and tirelessly does so, at the price, as we can see, of the Passion and Crucifixion. Apart from many other sides of the Crucifixion, it is a completely logical outcome of His attempts to relate to the others as He is and as they are. I will even add that, speculatively speaking, the Crucifixion could not take place otherwise. Furthermore, if Christ related to others as He is but not as they are – a pure speculation of course because one cannot go without the other – the Crucifixion would also not take place. Leaving aside the idea of a “fake Messiah, a blasphemer” for which He was allegedly crucified and also other considerations about the necessity of the Atonement and considering the matter psychologically He was crucified precisely by those who could not stand Him seeing them as they were. And even if we take into account “a fake Messiah” as a reason to crucify Him I doubt that it is the real reason. There were many fake Messiahs at that time (just like in ours); it is quite easy to ignore them even if they attempt to annoy you in person (like some street preachers who literally grab your sleeve demanding a response) if you do not have that disturbing gnawing feeling that in the light of the “fake Messiah”, the pathetic fake indeed, you are nothing and worse even, you are probably a fake. Hence it is “the fake Person” against another fake person, me against Him, my perception of myself against His perception of me; the very existence of His fake makes me appear to be a fake – so what should I do? The solution is made easy by the doubtless fact that He is a fake. It is not a crime to kill a fake, especially if by doing so I, the real person, am saving myself.
I read somewhere that the Gospels are a portrait of Christ. I would add, in the context of what was said above, that the Gospels are the portrait of Christ in motion, created not just by the observers of Him but by Christ Himself, via revealing His personal reaction to other persons including the observers. And furthermore – via reading the Gospels and relating to various people to whom Christ relates there the reader somehow becomes the subject of Christ’s relating to him or her. Here is the point that distinguishes the Gospels from the rest of anything ever written: none of it can produce, in a reader, the sense of being seen by the main hero, without even mentioning this possibility. In fact, being mentioned, such a possibility immediately cancels itself.
I note here, in relation to the notion “the Gospels are the portrait of Christ”, the living portrait through which not only we look at Christ but He looks at us as well, that the Orthodox icon which depicts Our Lord as on a portrait (a single figure), has exactly the same quality – Christ on an icon looks at a person intently, His eyes always meet ours wherever we stand and the way He looks somehow pulls us closer to Him, into the iconic space which is the depiction of the Kingdom of God.
I do not know if I managed to convey that Christ, being properly depicted, in colours and words, always relates to the other. And not just “relates”. He treats the other person in a way the latter feels that he or she is fully seen, as a person, that she is very important for Him. There is nothing flattering about such attention – He was equally attentive to the Pharisees or Judas when He condemned them. It is nothing else but seeing the other as she is and relating to that depth in the soul of the other, regardless of appearances. At a given moment, the most important for Christ is to crack into the other’s soul providing her with an opportunity to… yes, again, to respond in truth, to relate to Him. Precisely because of this, the icons which depict Our Lord doing something to/with the other and not looking at him or her are profoundly false. An example: Christ, on some icons called ‘Walking on Water’, is pulling drowning apostle Peter up and looking not at him but at the viewer, as if to say “Look at me, what I am doing!”
Interestingly, here we have Christ relating to the viewer but in an entirely artificial, non-Christ-like, and therefore unconvincing, way. Worse yet, this artificial “relating” to the viewer distorts and even nullifies the true mode of how the true Christ relates to a viewer, via apostle Peter with whom the viewer is supposed to identify himself, psychologically. As a result, instead of feeling that the Lord truly cares, for Peter and for him, a viewer is left with the sense that Christ cares primary about the viewer’s perception of His mighty deed. The fact that Peter jumped into the water on the call of the Lord to believe that it is Him indeed makes that subtly wrong representation of Christ particularly worthy to ponder at. “Lord, if it is You, order me to come to You on water” He [Christ] said “Go.” And then “Peter became scared and, drowning, screamed “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately stretched out His hand, supported him and said “Man of little faith! Why did you doubt?”
I cannot imagine the Lord saying and doing all those things and not looking at Peter; if He did His behaviour effectively would communicate the following: “believe that I is I and come to Me by the way of blind faith but you cannot count that I will see you.” In effect, it says “I will not save you, Peter, a particular person, you will get saved because you happened to be an actor in a grand scene, an unnamed one in the admiring crowd.”
Such “relating” to Peter would be of course extremely odd, from a human point of view. Here we do not deal with any high theological ideas but only with [conveyed] abnormal human behaviour of the One in Whom the human nature is perfected. However, this psychologically aberrant representation of Christ the Person distorts Him as Son of Man and Son of God both i.e. the abnormal psychology of this icon blows off the theology.
I was discussing the twisted representation of our Lord at such length because I have been trying to provide the reader with a sense of something inexplicable that seems to lurk there, similar to something I experienced before in a different circumstance that will be addressed later. The icon discussed above does not depict the non-relating Christ but presents Him in a way that He appears to relate while He really does not. Furthermore, this representation is somehow rationally defendable. For example, “an icon is a sign, not a realistic depiction” or “He is God, he can save and not look” or “He is looking at you”. God can save without looking physically. The icon is a sign, if one means that it points to the reality of the Incarnation and shows that reality at the time. Christ is indeed looking at the viewer. It sounds OK until the “personal factor” comes into the picture. It is only in the attempt of a believer to connect with Christ via that icon its falsity – and the falsity of the apparently sound arguments above – is felt by him albeit vaguely.
The notion of relating to = seeing the other is taken and its kernel, empathy, is removed from the preserved shell. Christ on the icon now looks at the other but does not see him as a person and it is felt by that person. Because of that Christ – the real Christ – now cannot be seen = to be related to, as well. And – back to something lurking – His invisibility and non-availability for personal relationship is conveyed not via the removal of His image but via presenting the flawless image of Him, meticulously painted in accordance with the iconographic canon, with all His likeness and very recognizable facial features. It is Him, just the eyes and the spirit that are not His.
My point, made by the means of psychology, that Our Lord cannot be described and understood without the notion of the relationship with others can be easily backed up theologically/dogmatically. God is Love; He is not a monad engaged in self-love but is the relationship of three Persons in mutual selfless love. Jesus Christ, being Love and Truth Incarnate, can relate to human beings only in His own true mode that is selfless love. And Love cannot be content without expressing itself, without relating to its subject, that is the creation and each of us. Hence Christ who does all that He is supposed to do including the Atonement but is non-relating to us is not Christ but His opposite, quite a dead figure.
This is a strong statement. It came unexpectedly as a result of my mental exercise, to imagine a non-relating Lord. The Atonement would not make sense if the Lord did not relate to the people around Him and to us because such non-relating, despite all the necessary actions, would silently state: “I do not care about you, I do not see each of you”. Human nature would be brought to the Cross and then get resurrected but it would be the human nature that is without personhood (personhood cannot be without relating to other persons). Hence the humane persons would have no chance to be resurrected.
It is not enough for me to know that someone named Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself and somehow now my sins are forgiven as a result. To appreciate this fact I must understand why it has anything to do with to me. But an intellectual understanding alone will not do; I must experience, one way or another, that the unknown to me person called Jesus Christ did it for my sake, for my person and even more – I must feel that it is true and not some tale crafted to make me “be good”. I must experience some of truth of that, quiet irrational, notion. Something or someone that tells about this strange fact must also give me an opportunity to meet that Jesus Christ. I must myself experience, via the source of information, that He loves me, not “loved” but loves and wants to deal with me. “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” To love Him I must experience His love first. The abstract story about the Atonement will not do; it must be applied to me, to my life now.
I must restate here that the Gospels do exactly that i.e. they provide the reader with a personal experience of Christ, first of the witnesses and then, if the reader allows it, with his own, even if very dim. It is not the facts of Christ’s Atonement or miracles or high ethic/morals of His teaching make Him believable but meeting His Person, via the Gospels or other means, gives the meaning and the reality to the Atonement and miracles or ethics/moral teaching. The idea of Atonement was very understandable to the ancient Jews but, taken abstractly, says nothing to modern people (at least it is not something that can move them to change their life radically). The same goes about the idea of the Messiah. Equally, not many seem to realise their own insufficiency and misery, the meaninglessness of their own life without “something more”, painfully enough to wish “to be saved”. The high ethics and morals are by no means something exclusive – they can be found in other teachings and movement so they do not make Christ something special. Hence, nothing in the discourse of the Gospels can move a person to believe in Christ, apart from something irrational, some sudden vague intuition that “it must be true– yes, He is real!” Known to me accounts of conversions to Christianity typically include this element of “feeling Him”, “feeling it is true”, “He is real” – in one word, various encounters of Christ Himself, as the Person or the sense of Him as the Person, even if very dim and also, very importantly, the sense that this discovery somehow demands from them to do something about it. I.e., there was always that element of being personally related to which demands them to relate back, to answer.
The reader may wonder what am I doing here, why am I trying to prove (over five pages already) that Jesus Christ relates. The whole host of Christian literature, beginning from ‘Acts’, is the record and product of such relating. Probably even an atheist would agree that Christ relates, as a fictional character of course, but He does, to the deluded believers in Him. Interestingly, an atheist would not deny that He relates to a believer providing that he adds “it is only self-hypnosis of course”. He may say “God does not speak to you, you are mad” but will not say “Christ as a person, albeit fictional cannot relate to another person”. Why? – First, because a normal person = a person with a normal psyche, whether real or a fictional character, relates to others. Second, because the facts (fiction of course) in the Gospels clearly state otherwise. Third, because, if Christ indeed did not relate to others, there would be no need to try to prove that Christianity is nonsense.
Various anti-Christian arguments typically follow two roads. One, “philosophical”, attempts to make Christian teaching nonsense from an existential point of view; another – “scientific”, tries to prove the sheer incompatibility of the mind enlightened by modern science with Christian faith. Their meeting point, a “psychological” or “psychoanalytical” way of dealing with Christianity, undertakes to interpret religious experience as various disorders of the oppressed/undeveloped psyche. None of them can cause any real harm to a practising believer who already has a personal relationship with God i.e. who is beginning to know Christ and himself as well, via that relationship. “Your theology is crap” will not work. “You escape into a delusion because you are weak” will also not work. “Your experiences of Christ are delirium” will work even less.
Those statements are not effective for several reasons. The accuser is outside of faith hence his handling of the Christian phenomena is too crude and therefore unconvincing no matter how much study of Christian theology he has done [the dealing of a non-believer with the Christian sacraments is a good example of that]. His argument may raise some questions and some doubts in some aspects of dogma but they cannot do any harm to the personal relationship of a believer with Christ because, being an anti-Christian, all he can do is to crudely deny the possibility of such a relationship as a logical outcome of his statement that Christ does not exist. A believer knows better: Christ definitely exists because he has that relationship with Him. For an anti-Christian, Christ does not exist not because he does not have a relationship with Him but because of various convictions – intellectual, psychological and so on. Here the personal knowledge of the Person of Christ (by a believer) goes against the non-personal constructs (of a non-believer). To seriously affect the faith of a believer who has a personal relationship with Christ one must break into the personal realm where the relationship with Christ takes a place. And a non-Christian cannot do it because to enter there he must believe in the existence of that realm first.
From here it logically follows that only a Christian can prove that a personal relationship of a believer with Christ is a delusion.
I have no idea why I wrote “only a Christian can prove that a personal relationship of a believer with Christ is a delusion”. Not only does this conclusion not add anything to the argument that stopped on the positive point, that “nobody can destroy the faith of a Christian who has a personal relationship with Christ” it also seems to undermine that point via suggesting the possibility of the existence of “[only] a Christian [who] can prove that a personal relationship of a believer with Christ is a delusion”. Metaphorically speaking, that step in the discussion seems to pass a zero point and moves into the “minus” section of the scale, for some reason bringing to mind associations like “faith inside out”, “plus defined by minus” and even “the path of negation”. The rhetorical accident would not be worthy of attention if it did not have the unmistakable flavour of a so-called double bind.
A double bind, in psychology, is defined as “an emotionally distressing dilemma in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates another”. The conclusion above is a kind of a double bind, i.e. a contraposition of the mutually exclusive possibilities, but it seems also to exclude the existence of a necessary component of a double bind, a person who has to and cannot make a choice between them. A Christian cannot destroy the reality of someone’s relationship with Christ because in the moment he chooses to do so he ceases to be a Christian. What makes a Christian a non-Christian is a choice. But what if a person is not conscious of that choice? I am not speaking about a zombie but someone who incorporates those two possibilities into oneself thus becoming the extension of the double bind, a double bind incarnate.
As it was established in the previous chapters, faith in Christ implies the notion that “Christ relates” meaning that one who believes in Him relates to Him and He relates to him. Quite naturally, anyone who looks at the sentence “only a Christian can prove that a personal relationship of a believer with Christ is a delusion” reads it as: “only a Christian believer, i.e. one who has a personal relationship with Christ, can prove that a personal relationship of another Christian believer with Christ is a delusion”. This assumed notion of “a personal relationship” is precisely what makes a mind go blank because it says: “only a Christian believer = one who knows that Christ relates can prove to another believer that Christ does not relate”. The personal aspect being removed, the rendition “only a Christian believer = one who does not know that Christ relates can prove to another believer that Christ does not relate” immediately destroys the double bind because one who does not know that Christ relates is not a Christian – perhaps a nominal but a nominal Christian cannot prove anything to a non-nominal one.
The reworded double bind “only a Christian believer = one who knows that Christ relates can prove to another believer that Christ does not relate” is a very descriptive of “a double bind incarnate” I am about to explore. It is a narcissist priest.
I am not speaking here about a classic narcissist i.e. an individual with a sense of entitlement, absence of empathy and a conviction in his superiority to the point of “I am God” who innately treats others as unworthy slum. I am speaking about the so-called covert or closet narcissist who has all the necessary qualities of the classic one but does not exhibit them in a way that makes it impossible for him to pass for a convincing Christian.
A covert narcissist in his essence is the same empty, grandiose, devoid of empathy individual as the classic narcissist but who has learnt to cover those unpopular qualities. He does it not because he perceives them to be bad and is therefore ashamed of himself but because his fragile psyche makes it impossible for him to act them out openly as a classic or overt narcissist does. If an overt narcissist defends against the lurking semi-conscious thought about his own inadequacy by the means of the grandiose mirrors created by the others (so-called narcissistic supply), a covert narcissist opts for the more moderate image of “a very nice guy” (a very modest person, very selfless, very caring and so on). Employing the language of theology, a covert narcissist is a narcissist who is engaging in kenosis – decreasing for the sake of increasing.
Those words which allude to the Gospel lines help to understand something important about the covert narcissistic priest. St John the Baptist said, witnessing to Christ that he (St John) “must decrease so He (Christ) would increase”. This is the paradigm of a Christian life; one who believes in Christ must decrease so that Christ would increase, in His soul. This process of course is very private and hidden. In the case of a covert narcissist, he must decrease so that he himself would increase, and increase superficially, as a figure for admiration. There is no Christ here, apart from the possible proposition that, as an icon of Christ, a priest via increasing in statue would increase His icon as well. The falsity and superficiality of this proposition (a narcissistically increasing priest makes an icon of himself, not of Christ) brings another consideration: Christ, in His extreme kenosis [Passion and Crucifixion], reveals the nature of God much more than in His glory. This “free association” may help to grasp the air of the peculiar quality of a covert narcissist priest: it does not matter how theologically flawless may be his discourse about God there is always something odd present there, something that brings to a mind the oddity of the icon ‘Walking on Water’ discussed above.
In the case of ‘Walking on Water’ it is a twisted representation of how the Person of God = Christ relates to a human person, apostle Peter i.e. a representation of Christ who does not relate. In the case of a covert narcissist priest it is exactly the same phenomenon, Christ = God Who does not relate, conveyed not by unanimated means like paints but by a living individual, a priest. The impact is more subtle and more potent.
How does he do it? – By simply being, because he himself does not relate to Christ = to God, in truth, as a person to the Person. And not only does he not relate to God – unlike a non-narcissist priest who in such a case would probably feel there was something wrong in that situation – he does not feel the slightest contradiction because for him not to relate to another, whether it is the Person of God or a human person, is a norm. A narcissist, overt or covert, does not see others as persons but only as soulless means for his gratification. And since, as it was established earlier, even “dry” Christian dogmas cannot be defined and understood without the notion of a relationship, a narcissist is unlikely to provide an entirely convincing (and correct) theological discourse. Understandably, even more so his deficiency is perceptible when he attempts to comment on the text of the Gospels; speaking about the interactions of Christ with the others he is incapable of bringing into his discourse even the faintest trace of a personal, of his own relationship with God or at least the aspiration of such.
However, this is not all. Precisely because such a person is the incorporation of the statement “Christ does not relate” his homilies extinguish, for his audience, the sense of personal relationship with Christ = His reality = His personal relevance even if it was already powerfully conveyed by those in the Gospel texts he is attempting to comment on. The encounters with Christ described in the Gospels in his take somehow turn into a soulless, impersonal, lifeless discourse. People, who before were seen as popping up from the pages, now, being processed through the narcissistic prism, are somehow lacking a life, they flatten and sink back. Christ, reflected by those people He dealt with, is now flat as well and follows the same fate, as someone who happened to cure someone and then went on his way somewhere – nothing to do with the narcissist – with the cured one – with us. Christ in the take of a narcissist priest is thoroughly dead. Summing up, a narcissist priest can neither convert anyone into the reality of a relationship with Christ nor enhance someone’s relationship with Him. It may be hard to see though, for a reader, how he can ruin it (as “a double bind incarnate” is supposed to do).
Well, I also find it hard to see right now because I, just like you, know that a priest in a question is a covert narcissist i.e. I know that he, par excellence, cannot convey the notion “Christ relates”. But what if I did not?
Imagine a charismatic, engaging young priest. He is preaching about “love of God”, that we are “children of God”, that we are “good enough” for God – He loves us. He is greeting a congregation before Mass and asks them how they are, “not too cold?” etc. He so much wants to be close to the people that, for the purpose of removing the boundaries between them and himself, he delivers his homily not from where he is supposed to but leaves the sanctuary and walks in the isle into the middle of the church. “We must treat each other well! God is love, He wants to love everyone and we must love each other!” he says while pacing there. This picture depicts a genuine good priest who could well be even Christ, in some movie. And it can also be a portrait of a closet narcissist priest.
Here is the point. “It can be – it can be; it can be – it cannot; it cannot – it cannot”. If one can be than another cannot be, but they look the same. This is precisely the state of a mind of a person who began noticing the “oddities” and yet does not dare to admit their existence because they clash with the image of the engaging priest who spoke about “love of God” or “love for each other” with such enthusiasm. “I must have misunderstood him” or “he used an unfortunate expression” he may think.
Perhaps this is a good time to give the reader an example of such “oddities”. As a rule, they always involve interpersonal relationships. Like, “Mary Magdalene did not recognize Christ after His resurrection because she was afraid. She was thinking “what will become of me if the man who banished seven demons from me is dead?” The priest seems to be oblivious to the fact that, if St Mary Magdalene had those thoughts she would never go to the tomb; furthermore, the text of the Gospel clearly conveys that all she was thinking about was Christ. “Where did you place Him, tell me and I will go and take Him” she says to Christ Whom she mistakes for a gardener. Christ is all she can think about, being by herself in a lonely place with some unknown man approaching her. She did not recognize Him for a variety of reasons – because she was full of despair, because her eyes were filled with tears, because she even did not bother to look at “a gardener” (what for?) or because the risen Christ looked differently (other who encountered Him after the Resurrection also did not recognize Him until he indicated Who He was). The preacher appears not to understand that all that moved St Mary Magdalene was her love for Christ, her response to His love for her, about which he preached abstractly as “love of God” on a number of occasions. Finally, the statement “what will become of me now when He is dead” shifts the focus from Him to “me” – something that is entirely absent in St Mary of the Gospels who is entirely focused on Him, forgetting herself.
To understand what such an interpretation does, the reader must keep in a mind that each story in the Gospels, apart from conveying the story of individuals, has also a symbolic/metaphysical aspect. A temporal individual, via coming into contact with the eternal, Christ, is (if he is willing) being lifted up into the eternal and expands. Additionally, each event/person/everything in the Gospels is always considered and understood in the context of the whole Scripture. St Mary Magdalene is not just some woman who happened to go to the tomb but one of a few who followed Christ to Golgotha and stood under the cross. She is also the first person to whom Christ chose to appear after Resurrection and this is why she is called by the Church “the apostle to the apostles”. She is typically seen by believers as an example of selfless, faithful and courageous love for Christ; because her love was so outstanding, some say, she was the first to see the risen Lord. In the preacher’s rendition of the episode the love of St Mary Magdalene is swapped by a fear hence her exulted image (icon), as it is created by the Gospels and understood by the Church, is destroyed. And, if a listener happens to recall the well-known words in the same Gospels, “there is no fear in love but perfect love cast out fear; he who fears is not made perfect in love”, the destruction is even more felt. It is apostle John now who renders St Mary Magdalene as “imperfect in love”.
But the preacher does not just drop down St Mary, he also drops down the whole episode. Being devoid of the notion of love conveyed in the Gospel by the powerful emotions of despair of a loss of a loved one, faith, sacrifice, hope etc., its pinnacle – a sudden recognition of the Beloved = witnessing the Resurrected Christ – now looks as quite a trivial, dull event. Here the twisted psychology ruins theology again, albeit in a subtle way. The new version of the event loses the spark, the real response of a person (Mary) to Christ and His – to her, that very spark that kindles in a listener the sense of the reality of the risen Christ, the notion of “Christ Who relates”. He now, being reflected in this new, devoid of love St Mary, is also flat. As a result, the story can now hardly touch anyone.
Noteworthy, all the visible facts (she went, she saw, He said) are left untouched. Only the invisible or subjective (feelings, emotions, reasons) are being twisted.
There is more in all this. In this new rendition, the “fear” of St Mary is so much out of context that one cannot help to wonder how a priest could come up with it. It appears to me that he was talking about himself. It is of course only a speculation; in any case there is nothing wrong with identifying oneself with some characters in the Gospels – in fact it is how we are supposed to read them. There is a difference though: a person not entirely devoid of self-insight sees another as “more courageous than I”, “more selfless than I”, “more loving than I” – or less hence he would have no trouble, being fearful, to think “love made St Mary brave, I wish I could have such love. In her place, probably, I would be too terrified to go to the tomb and would hide being afraid to be arrested when the Teacher is dead (as the other apostles did)”. He simply could not attribute to St Mary his own lack of courage. A narcissist is unable to make such an unfavourable, for himself, comparison, even without vocalizing it. This point brings us to another peculiarity of a covert narcissist priest – his avoidance of speaking of Christ.
It is not surprising. First, it is impossible to speak of Christ without feeling His supremacy/superiority, something a narcissist cannot bear. Second, being the exact opposite of a narcissist, his Person lacks anything a narcissist could truly relate to and deal with in his usual way. There is nothing in Him to use, to manipulate, to twist and so on. It can be done only via the third party (like via St Mary, above) but to deal with Christ directly a narcissist cannot do. So he does not; he rarely mentions Christ and never discusses him in any way that allows Him to look present. It almost feels as if a narcissist cannot be in the same space with the alive Christ. And, since there cannot be a homily without a priest the one who must go is Christ.
So he does, and even the traces of His formal presence are being gradually erased in various ways. A narcissistic priest seems to be compelled to “overwrite” Christ’s parables, providing not just his commentary but his own alternative. Instead of interpreting, let’s say, the words of Christ “I am the vine, My Father is a vine dresser; without Me you can do nothing… remain in my Love” the priest says: “I will tell you a story” – an announcement very similar to what Christ habitually makes in the Gospels. Then he begins his discourse about how everyone present wants to appear fit so we go on a diet and even take slimming pills. “But” – he continues, “we somehow forget that we have an excellent slimming pill – communion which makes us slim for Christ, to be fit for Christ, etc.”
One can say that the “story” has some relevance to the words of Christ. “Grape wine – wine – communion”. “Slimming for Christ – getting rid of sins – remaining in Christ”. To that I would answer that yes, there are formal connections, but they do not and cannot withstand a lame comparison, “holy communion – slimming pill – slimming for Christ”. Why? – Because communion is Christ, and Christ is ALL therefore communion is the opulent feast, and symbolically the Eucharist is the feast, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and the opulent feast cannot make anyone “slim” but is supposed to make us fat, in God, and that communion is Christ Himself hence we cannot partake Christ for the sake of being slim for Christ. What is missing here is the notion of “sin” and repentance and fasting. One fasts and repents – slimming himself from sins – for the sake of Christ but this priest did not say that. Sin and repentance are the other notions which seem to be entirely alien to the narcissist priest. What is left, in the minds of the congregation after hearing this “story” is the unfortunate image of “communion as a slimming pill” that totally overwrites the normal image of communion as Christ. The original text, the words of Christ, are forgotten as well as Christ Himself.
Is a priest who pulls the Gospels down, pushes Christ aside or depersonalizes Him, overwrites His words with his own, good enough to ruin the believer’s relationship with Christ? I do not know; if not there is something else in the priest that can help it: he is undoubtedly nice.
Remember how we started? “Imagine a charismatic, engaging young priest. He is preaching about “the love of God”, that we are “children of God”, that we are “good enough” for God – He loves us. He is greeting the congregation before Mass and asks them how they are, “not cold?” etc. He so much wants to be close to the people that, to remove the boundaries between them and him, that he delivers his homily not where he is supposed to, in the sanctuary, but walks down into the isle. “We must treat each other well! God is love, He wants to love everyone and we must love each other!” This picture depicts a good preacher who could well be Christ, in some movie.”
Analysing the impact of the activity of the covert narcissistic priest above, the discourse necessarily concentrated on the negative, leaving the positive image aside. Thus he was made an overt one i.e. one who is openly selfish, grandiose, non-compassionate i.e. the total opposite of Christ. Unfortunately, it is exactly what I did while analysing why a narcissist literally cannot stand Christ. Both overt and covert narcissists cannot stand Christ but the former acts this out openly and the latter covers his disgust with the mask which is an imitation of the image of Christ. I said “an imitation of the image” because it is not an “imitation of Christ” i.e. qualities of Christ that every Christian is supposed to try to develop but “the image” meant as in “image-making” i.e. their outwardly appearances. It means that for sustaining his Christ-like image such a priest must engage in equally superficial actions. He does not encourage his congregation to engage in acts of mortification for the purpose of becoming better. Instead, he makes them feel nice.
Just like with erasing the presence of Christ, it is done in multiple ways. Instead of the extremes of the Gospels “reject oneself and follow Me”, “take up your cross and follow Me”, “one who saves his life will lose it” etc., the narcissist priest says “you are good enough for God”. It sounds nice indeed. It can even be theologically defended, as “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son…” “Good enough” could be possible [albeit not the best and not entirely correct] rendition of the notion of the selfless love of God for His prodigal children if the priest did not keep missing another point of the story: the prodigal son repented. And not only this – the whole Gospels begin from St John the Baptist’s call for repentance. (“Repent and believe in good news!” says also Christ). This is how a Christian life begins and continues: love of God – my response to Him, repentance out of seeing myself in His light – my love for Him that is never enough – repentance – and so on, towards the union with Him, in mutual love. This notion of the movement of a soul towards God is entirely absent in a take of a narcissist preacher who keeps going on “we are good enough”; in fact he does it so often that it looks like a self-comforting mantra.
“Feeling nice” thus comes for the price of not walking towards Christ = losing Christ. Astonishingly, this fact passes unnoticed. The subtle changes, conveyed ambivalently and often implicitly, appear to be entirely subjective i.e. they can always be denied or easily dissolved because they do nothing directly with the text of the Gospels – no heresies then – but undermine it by providing his own, narcissistic, Gospel and narcissistic Christianity. All this, I repeat, while appearing Christ-like.
I got carried away with the description of the fruits, hence the image of “the nice guy” slipped away again giving a way to a narcissist. In real life, however, a believer typically starts from the opposite end; the enduring glow of a “nice guy" is only occasionally overshadowed by the “oddities” discussed above. So let us try to place ourselves again into the position of a believer who only now begins noticing some strange things but has no thoughts that a priest may be a covert narcissist; in fact he may not even know that such a phenomenon exists.
This inability to decide who the priest is, is precisely the double bind in which a member of the congregation is caught. “Feeling nice” cultivated by the priest certainly does not help the needed clarity; “Christian considerations” like “we always have to attribute good intentions to a person” play a deafening role as well.
Apart from that, a believer is blinded and constrained by his own expectations of what a priest is supposed to be and also by the air of his authority carried by those expectations. That is, the minimum one naturally expects from a priest is to teach and to preach Christ, and to do so in accordance with the official teaching of the Church. His exclusive position, of the only one who is allowed to say a homily (i.e. to explain the Gospels) during the Mass strengthens this, very natural, expectation even more. Challenging a priest then may look and be perceived as violating the Church order and even as not being a true member of the Church – especially since he is dealing with someone who is very nice and whose fault is only in producing some “oddities” that somehow change, in the mind of a believer, the Gospels into something else and make Christ a bit too much absent and the priest – too much present.
It is not with the “human badness of a priest” that a believer is labouring. A sinful priest (unkind, drunkard, womanizer, etc.) can still deliver the Gospel message correctly like a kind of polluted microphone. A humanly “bad” priest can still preach the real Christ. Neither is a believer thinking about “challenging an openly heretical priest” (who says for example that Christ is not divine) because the open gross heresy would render a priest to be unsuitable for his position by itself, without doubts. Also, a grossly open heresy is impossible without preaching Christ, albeit heretical. A believer here is dealing with a kind of a gap, a hollow space, a shadow, the phenomenon that can be grasped only as a negative reference to something real.
The thought of clarifying a matter in an open confrontation is hampered by “If I think he is a bad priest I will look unchristian because he looks like a good priest – what reason have I apart from being suspicious?” but another thought “if I think he is a good priest than I agree with his strange handling of Christ” gnaws at him nevertheless; not being entirely silenced by the rational response “but how can I know what he really means”. Murky as it is, it may begin to transpire that a believer here deals not just with a choice “him or Christ” and “me or Christ” but also with “me looking bad = “unchristian” if I say he is bad = unchristian” or “me looking good = Christian if I say he is good = Christian” glued to it. It is noteworthy that the word “Christian” here constantly adds blur via changing its meaning, from the description of a noun to adjective, of a person who belongs to Christ to a person behaving nice. He is now, in his mind, bound to a priest; making a priest bad = a fake makes him look bad = a fake as well.
One may speculate whether it is the beginning of a transformation, of the believer, into an extension of a double bind priest. A believer cannot now “defend Christ” without showing himself as being bad, suspicious, an unchristian person. Thus his dilemma is:
“priest is bad = unchristian (Christ-omitting) i.e. a fake – presence of Christ returned – I am bad = unchristian person i.e. a fake”
“priest is good = Christian – there is no Christ – I am a good = Christian person”.
Taken purely as a formula or as a mad thought, a believer now, via a double bind is joined to the priest in his intolerance of Christ. There is no longer a meeting place for them (a believer and Christ). Of course it is only a formula but it nicely illustrates the state of the psyche and spiritual “reality” as well.
The endless questioning of reality makes him develop mistrust, in the others and in his own perceptions. In application to his private spiritual life it means that, being mistrustful and fearful in general, he is unable now to trust his own relationship with Christ and in the reality of his communication with Him. Or, better to say, he neither trusts nor mistrusts or one day trusts and the next day does not. His psyche, being exhausted by the endless doubts and the attempts to reconcile the opposites, develops a compensatory mechanism and grows numb. While it is possible to have a leg or arm locally anesthetized it is impossible to anesthetize a part of a soul without anesthetizing all so a believer ends up being numb to Christ as well. Not only is he now unable to trust a perceived response, he is losing the ability to detect the response. Therefore Christ now no longer relates. Therefore if He does not relate He has never related. Therefore a believer’s previous relationship with Him was a delusion. Therefore “only a Christian can prove that a personal relationship of a believer with Christ is a delusion”.
This is a lie of course.
Christ in a crown of thorns, the fake outwardly, has it all = God in Himself. Those who are about to kill Him have it all outwardly but are fakes inside. How does He make them feel their inward emptiness? He is “nothing” visibly. Nothing that can provide a narcissist with a mirror. No glory. This is a reflection, the dividing image. Those who have something of Him inside themselves – compassion, empathy, even love despite sinfulness see something of themselves in Him. [They do exist, via Him.] Not so a narcissist who does not have empathy or love or compassion, who is all lie – he will see nothing in Him. Paradoxically, ‘Ecce Homo’ shows to all who they are. Those who still are humane see something; but a narcissist not just sees nothing, he also perceives that he is being mocked by the sight somehow. Here He is, the hugest mirror the Grand Narcissist could possibly obtain, God and it is refused to him via that damn kenosis, and it is impossible to reduce it or to break it because Christ has already done it all.