Tag Archives: Creed

May 19. What is Theology Saying? LVI: Salvation outside the Church V.

feedig 5000.ethiopia.rome

When Christians begin to realise the nature of symbolism as used in religious thought, we become more cautious of speaking about false gods. The more we appreciate symbolism, the more we realise how all religions tend to worship the one God.

austinIt was this that prompted Rahner to ask: are all nations saved through Jesus Christ; or whether Jesus is not the universal saviour. His answer is simple. If only those are saved who acknowledge him by name, he cannot be the universal saviour. Yet we believe his is the focus for everyone. He says without acclaiming Jesus by name, many are in fact his followers, because they are doing the will of the Father – working towards universal reconciliation. He points to Jesus saying in the Gospel it is not those who hail him as Lord who enter the kingdom – but those who do the will of the Father.

Matthew 25 presents the Last Judgement, in which those who have cared for the sick, the hungry and imprisoned are called to the kingdom – and those who do none of these things are not – whether they recognise Jesus as Saviour or not. Not only the Hindus and Buddhists but lapsed Catholics and Communists – are called forward before Church-goers.

Salvation is not a reward for reciting the creed correctly – it is the inner fruit of life, love and welcome to all without exclusion.

AMcC

Feeding the 5,000, from Ethiopia, Missionaries of Africa, Rome.

Afterword:

Thank you, Austin, for this and all your contributions to Agnellus’ Mirror and for keeping alive the connection between the Franciscans, the blog, and the City of Canterbury. Peace and all blessings!

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12 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIII: Jesus was alive and present to the disciples

upperroom tomdog

We can see in the Nicene Creed two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate. It is only in recent times we have asked if religious statements were literally true – verifiable by observation. Our technology minded age is in danger of thinking that such verification is the only criterion of truth. As a result, new questions are being asked. One item in the Nicene Creed’s account of Jesus causes a special problem. It is not self-evident that and on the third day he rose again belongs to the first or second account. Saint Paul says if Christ is not risen then our hopes are in vain. We do not know whether Paul was thinking of the resurrection in the first or second recital.

We know that everywhere in Scripture, where we have testimonies of the risen Christ, mystery language is used – dazzling light, white garments, sudden appearances, ecstatic joy. No unbelievers had seen Jesus, and the guards told a different story. In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the resurrection belongs to the first or second recital, because the important issue is that it does hold the two recitals together. The apostles spoke from a faith experience, Jesus alive and present to them: something that changed everything for them. The evidence they gave was their own lives; alive in hope, joy and freedom – no longer cringing in that locked upper room – they were now living as a community of love and trust. Because they never asked was the Resurrection true as an observable fact, it never occurred to them to answer the question, and because they never asked or answered, we shall never know.

How could Jesus be truly human? Theology is never the study of God, but the study of man and his experience of God, because this is the only experience open to us. Focussing on Jesus is on a man in whose existence we have glimpsed the invisible God whose only image is man. In the experience of the man Jesus, especially in the way he met his death and his triumph over death, we have met the image of God who gives life and gives himself in a shocking and unique way, once and for all.

AMcC

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What is Theology Saying? XXII: God revealed in their friendship with Jesus

As time passed, Christians kept asking questions about Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father, and about the title Lord. Here again, as with the Eucharist, we face a mystery. We have the living experience of Jesus, and of the risen Christ in the early Church along with their testimony of what this meant for them. They used whatever words they could put together to express this in language that was mysterious and religious and which hinted at more than it said. God had been revealed to them in their friendship with Jesus in an overwhelming way.

The questions they asked were against a background of Greek philosophy and religion – a vision of the universe in which their time and space were somehow contained within eternity and infinity as though these were continuations of time and space. This was a world that believed that gods sometimes descended and mingled with humankind, intervening and then withdrawing again. In fact, their great problem – and ours – was to find any way to express religious experience and faith. No matter what words are used to explain mysteries, they are analogies and comparisons that never quite fit. Gradually, formulations were worked out to answer the questions, and examples remain with us today in what we know as the Nicene Creed of 325 AD.

This is a statement of what Jesus Christ means to us. We say it so frequently as almost to take it for granted. Yet if we read it as for the first time we will see in a single recital two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation and could be found in any police record. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate [before this he was son of God but not human]. After his death he was back again and at another point in time went back to the Father; he will return, establishing the endless kingdom.

This second recital could not have been checked by observation – yet the account is written as though it could have been observed: a story of two persons, one who stays always in that upper region, the other moves to and fro between heaven and earth, linking them in one experience. They did not think that Jesus came down from heaven like he came down from Mount Olivet, nor that he sat next to the Father in the way he sat next to John at the Last Supper.

Bring the two recitals together as one and see that the historical facts provide the immediate experience which the Christian community has always wanted to interpret. It does not matter that theology through the ages has discussed the mysteries of his life, treating both accounts on equal footing. The whole account means we see Jesus as the meaning of history, everything was at the beginning with God, and at the end linking everything together reconciling human and divine.

AMcC

Canterbury Cathedral Easter Tomb;
African Pilgrims at St Maurice, Switzerland (MAFR)

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8 May: What is Theology saying? III: A new way of being human

The Church teaches the same doctrine, but continues to make explicit what is implicit. An example: Peter preached God raised Jesus from the dead. What is implicit is that Jesus died, which the Creed makes explicit: was crucified, died and was buried…

However, Rahner insists there has been much development of doctrine that cannot be explained only by showing what was contained in words of previous formulations. What is handed down in the Christian tradition is much more than words; it is a new way of being human. The more we live it, the more we understand and try to express in words what is involved. Doctrine helps not only when we study words already written, but in trying to reflect on further implications through reflecting on the daily experiences of living this new way.

An example: the love between man and woman, parent and child. Certainly poetry and art forms have helped us see this wonderful gift in deeper ways, as indeed has scientific research. But common sense tells us the most realistic way to know is to experience it. The written word can only tell us about it. Experience lets us know it ever more deeply. The Church has developed a theology of prayer – but this is valuable, not because of study, argument or research, but through the real presence of praying people. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray – the way they had seen him at prayer – he simply sat down within who he was, the beloved of Abba, and let this wash over and through him, and produce its own response.

Newman and Rahner, among others, tell us that from the apostolic times through till now there have been three necessary elements for the development of doctrine: all the faithful, trying to live the Gospel – theologians trying to make this understandable – Church authority intervening occasionally to select an official explanation. Notice the right ordering of these three. Doctrine develops first at the level of ordinary human experience. Each generation has its own catechesis of the faith they cherish. This stage is obviously influenced by the contemporary understanding of the universe, of humankind, social relationships within time and space as then understood.

As new things are learned and uncovered about all of these, there is the ongoing need for renewal and review, realising from time to time that there is something in the current formulation of faith that doesn’t seem to fit, in terms of their experience of life. All through the ages this has been voiced, and it is this that has provided the agenda for theological research. Take for example the way Genesis says in the beginning – speaking as if God physically shaped clay with his hands, and spoke the words. The Church was already aware that God doesn’t have hands or voice, and that this Genesis account is poetic not intended to be taken literally.

AMcC

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November 1, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: i – Creeds, Codes and Dogmas

relief-1Chichester Cathedral

Reading the Book of Acts we see clearly how different was the Apostles’ sense of mission to that of today’s Church. We have Creeds, Codes and doctrines – systems to follow to preach the Word – they had none of this. They went out and shared their experiences of living with Jesus, especially after the Resurrection; what it was like to be with him. This mission hasn’t changed, though how we go about it has. We no longer have people to listen to who lived with him – nor even do we know of people who were with him.

We are weighed down with centuries of doctrine and speculation. The theologian speaks a language strangers do not know. So much of what is said and written seems far removed from everyday life. Can we do anything to recapture the powerful simplicity of those early days? The answer is the same – it is Jesus whom we share. The first Christian profession of faith was not I believe in God… but Jesus is Lord! Is this my experience, or is it what I am told to say? The Jesus they shared was a man they had known and lived with – they had experienced his enthusiasm, witnessed his frustrations. He enjoyed his life, along with him they knew excitement and disappointment – he wept on hearing of a friend’s death; and died violently while still a young man – with hope seemingly shattered and promises gone.

But here was not just a young man, full of promising potential – here was the reality of what being human means. Made in the image of God, the perfection of the human consists in the degree to which it truly reflects its origin. He claimed to be one with the Father, indeed he said to see him was to see the Father – he didn’t simply reflect divine perfection, he is this perfection. His disciples – even on Good Friday – knew they had seen the premature death of a man in whom they saw no trace whatsoever of evil. They saw the question all of us ask – even the best of lives must end, even the most special people must die, is life meant to be so absurd? Are our ideas, hopes and visions a promise of something wonderful to come or is it all a delusion?

These questions were answered by the Resurrection. This man, who had lived an exemplary human life, trusting himself entirely in the providence of Abba, was not deluded; and the chasm of death was no longer impassable. His friends remembered how they first met him, when he invited them when they asked him where he lived – come and see, he said. We may not know what they actually saw, but we know what they discovered from his passing from this life into a new world was not for him alone, but a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth – Ephesians 1.10.

Just as his death asked the vital question about the meaning of life; so the Resurrection provided the answer. God’s saving plan has finally earned the response in the most perfect way possible. The human Jesus has shown the fidelity which is the only reply God was waiting to receive. Now the human race began to be glorified through one of its members entering in to the new heaven and new earth. The way was clear for the disciples, our destiny and how to achieve it is wide open to anyone sharing the same humanity. Hopes and longings were always present for some kind of happiness beyond death – but God’s plan was recognised only in vague ways. Like a group of weary and hungry people lost in a forest; hopes were occasionally raised by some who set-out to find it, but there was no news of how they got on.

AMcC

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21 December: O come, Thou Day-Spring

Today is the shortest day of the year, up here in the Northern Hemisphere. From today, the hours of daylight gradually increase, as people were well aware before the mixed blessings of electric light allowed us to forget we live in a world we only like to think we control.

The Church has long prayed on this day the antiphon ‘O Oriens’:

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

This verse of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ is not a direct translation but captures the spirit of the original, especially in lines three and four.

IMGP1797

O come,Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Of course we want the light, and would be far more lost in a power cut than our ancestors were in days gone by. And we pray ‘God from God, Light from Light’ in the Creed, perhaps without thinking too much about it.

For a surprising view, let’s turn to our old friend, William Blake; Auguries of Innocence includes these lines, which I leave you to digest.

 

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

MMB.

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