Tag Archives: human

May 18. What is Theology Saying? LV: Salvation outside the Church IV.

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We know that Christian missionary saints believed God would commit to the flames of hell those not baptised into the Church, even when living in good faith. They were saints – but they were austinmistaken. Christian missionaries forced converts to renounce all their previous ways of striving after God, making them adopt Western ways that had nothing to do with religion. Much cruelty was inflicted through the inability to distinguish between cultural and social customs, and religious convictions.

Modern Social Sciences make it easier for us to accept this as missionaries sought to try to understand the different cultures and ways of thought of non-Christian folk, and they began to understand non-Christian religious convictions from the way the people saw them. Like being less than impressed looking at stained glass windows from outside – so different when seen from inside.

The patristic scholar Jean Daniélou proposed seeing the great Eastern Religions as being pre-Christian but leading to Christ. Their followers are saved by their commitment, the hope that seeks a future fulfilment. The fact that these people live after Christ [today] is not important, because their experience is before Christ as long as they have not heard the Gospel in a form that makes sense to them. While there is one Hindu living the Hindu tradition in good faith and with conviction, we cannot speak of the Hindu religion as false.

It is not only through their sincerity in striving after God as best they know how, that God comes to meet them; it is also because their striving is true. Our religious language is symbolic in a special way. It describes realities we have hardly glimpsed, and cannot comprehend. In the Jewish tradition it was important not to make images of God – because all images are false, the only image of God is the human person. So they speak as though God is a human person – masculine gender, a father-figure, who can get angry and change his mind. These characteristics are not literally true of God – but are true in another sense – they are true of our experience of God.

Other faith communities also know that language about God cannot be literally true. They express their experience of God. Asian faiths tend to be more contemplative than those of the Western world; they leave symbols in their symbolic form rather than seek explanations. Hindus say when you have images you understand you are making only a remote comparison, but when you have explanations you might be misled into thinking you understand much more than you do. God cannot be understood.

AMcC

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16 April: Stations for Peter X: Jesus is crucified.

winchester crucifix

Peter stood a long way off, but he probably had little choice.

Scripture references: Peter’s boat: Matthew 13:1-3; Let the children come: Luke 18: 15-17; the Crucifixion: Luke 23:33-34.

Everyone always wanted to be near Jesus. We used to try to protect him, to keep the crowds away.

I remember when he sat in my boat, just to have room to breathe! 

I remember when we sent the children away. He used to get tired just like anybody else, but No, he said, let them come to me. And climb all over him, arms and legs hanging on everywhere.

Now, no-one can get near, soldiers with swords and spears hold us back while they hammer nails through him and hang him up on high.

No last minute rescue.

The whole world seemed dark.

Let us pray for everyone in prison, especially those held for no real crime at all; and for those separated from their families and loved ones, kept apart by bullying governments and authorities.

Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

Image from Winchester Cathedral by MMB.

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14 August. What is Theology Saying? XXV: Jesus is the sacrament of our meeting with God.

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We know exactly what we mean when we say Jesus is man, and in our experience of this we have come to understand that he is divine. This understanding is not as though we grasp something beyond our experience, but it is what we meet in our experience. He is the sacrament of our meeting with God. We can’t meet God as God, because God is transcendent – which really means unmeetable! The Apostles told us that to meet Jesus was to be present to the invisible and untouchable God. In Jesus people were and are brought into contact with God – he is the encounter with God, he is divine.

Jesus knew himself as the Messiah, that in him God shares himself and communicates his presence, bringing pardon and peace to the world. But when God utters himself in a created reality it will necessarily be provisional, something finite. Any reality in the history of the world as God’s creature, is finite. If God wishes to say something definitive through reality, this reality will have to have such an association with God as to be the reality of God himself though not identical. God’s reality and Jesus’ creatureliness remain unconfused.

In Jesus we have a human being intimately one with God and at the same time in solidarity with humankind. In his death he surrenders completely to God while showing total and unswerving love for humankind. The victory of God’s forgiveness is complete and irreversible; and in God’s acceptance – the Resurrection – Jesus is confirmed as God’s self-communication to creation. But what does this mean? Any revelation revealing God through finite means thereby remains open to revision – nothing finite is necessary. Which means that if this is so, the creaturely reality [humanity of Jesus] must in some way be God’s own reality. A prophet can speak in God’s name, but remains finite and can be surpassed; only God’s Word in person can be definitive.

AMcC

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13 May: What is Theology saying? VIII: Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord

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Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history. Which only makes sense if we understand that it is a fully human word that is spoken. He struggled to express in the Aramaic words of his culture and his own experience, his human understanding of the divine meaning of his own life and existence in the world. Likewise with typical Jewish gestures and signs, and in the way he shaped his life and responded to the way others shaped it.

When the Apostles began passing on his message, they didn’t begin by reporting what he said. They first mention their own Easter experience, their experience of the Resurrection. What they saw was his way of meeting death and bursting its bonds. For them, the meaning of Jesus was something that could not be contained entirely in words; and Revelation could not be entirely communicated in words.

What was this Revelation? It was first and foremost the full experience of his presence, his companionship and friendship giving meaning to their own lives. Only secondarily, and within the embrace of friendship, did they receive explanations in which Jesus gave his own prophetic interpretation of why he was present with them. They received his words through living with him and living as he lived. Only by doing this did they come to reflect on what he said, and because of this proclaimed the reality in their own words; a further prophetic interpretation – extending the presence of Christ further into the world.

We have the classic collection of these words – the New Testament. We also have a collection of prophetic interpretations of what the apostolic community was like passed on to us by tradition; consisting of liturgical and catechetical formulae of all kinds [e.g. the Creeds]. These testimonies are more elusive because they have been worked out and refined through the centuries. This asks an important question about Revelation. If a text or prayer is written after the time of the apostles, does this make it less sacred or less revealed? Did Revelation stop when the last apostle died? Obviously, the interpretation of the apostles is special, indeed unique, simply through their personal presence at the heart of the Christian event.

If Jesus is the Revelation of God because of the conversation we now have with God – which he achieved during his life as it unfolded, and because of the way he met and overcame death, then those who walked with him had an experience definitive for all time. He changed radically our understanding of life in a way that will never change again. The Apostles are witnesses in a way no one else can be.

AMcC

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12 May: What is theology saying? VII: Scripture speaks of God’s self-revealing

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There are three important aspects to the biblical understanding of Revelation. A progressive understanding of what Revelation is about – God is becoming more and more personal in the demands he makes. These demands find their concrete definition in Jesus, who speaks clear words in a human language with ordinary signs of love and trust. It is the nature of Revelation to be progressive – with signs that become clearer and demands become more specific for us individually and all of us together.

Scripture speaks mainly of God’s self-revealing – but keeps referring back to the Word already spoken in creation – and not just Genesis, but Psalms and the Wisdom literature – Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus [Ben Sira], Wisdom of Solomon – all make references to God self-revealed in Creation. The New Testament writers frequently echo this.

Prophetic interpretation – the events of history by themselves do not constitute revelation, nor does the simple narration of them – it is only by prophetic interpretation they become revealing. The prophet speaks for God, telling the meaning of events that are happening. This is why Roman or Syrian records of the Maccabean wars would not be testimony of God’s revelation to us, while the Jewish accounts do give such testimony.

This raises the question as to how people come to speak of God, how they know what to say, and how specific words and expressions become canonical – binding for the whole tradition. Revelation is a constant dialogue/conversation between God and us, and the focus is Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the world not simply to bring revelation, like a message from above. He is in the world to be Revelation. He is a happening and gives his own prophetic interpretation of himself. As a happening he is a human being totally open to all possibilities of being and love offered by God. As a prophetic interpretation he explains the nature of God as a huge welcome to all existence and becoming.

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As a happening he is fully alive among us – which makes him the first recipient of God’s self-revealing. The Gospels show him constant in prayer with the Father, growing in wisdom, admitting there were things he did not know, gradually becoming more aware of his own mission and destiny. The New Testament shows him living his life in such a way as to become more constantly aware of what being human really means, and sharing this with his followers.

Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history.

AMcC

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January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

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The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.

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Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

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November 26: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxvi – Jesus’ risen life wasn’t more real

 

Creation is one – which is a reminder that there is no separation between the dead and the living – we share the same Creation but at different levels. The realm of the dead is not some distant place from where we will escape through resurrection. Life and death belong in the one reality. Jesus’ risen life wasn’t more real than his ordinary life – he is the fullness of reality – yet it is certainly more enduring.

There is one Creation in life, in death and beyond death. Creation is forever undergoing death, resurrection and transformation. Resurrection is not just about Christ; it is about all of us and all creation. Jesus was not just 3 days older, with wounds healed by God, but was present as one simultaneously alive and dead. Not that the Lamb slain has recovered. Resurrection has emptied death of its power; by showing the shape of death – the mortal wounds – without its content.

This presence is always present as death overcome. Resurrection is a new way of being human, or a rereading of the original human story that had been obscured by death. God’s affirmation of Jesus’ living and dying is Resurrection. Jesus Risen did not simply reveal information as yet unknown, but shows a reality as yet unobserved, because clouded by death. The Revelation is not that there is Resurrection from the dead [this was known at the time of Maccabees].

It is not in being human that we rise from the dead, like the next step on a journey, we rise from the dead through association with Jesus Risen, it is an entirely new way of being [as Jesus told Nicodemus]. Prior to Resurrection the disciples couldn’t understand what he was saying or where he was leading – now they see something new about him, about God and about themselves. Incarnation means coming in the flesh. The body is the creative medium through which Spirit flourishes.

AMcC

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November 7, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: vii – “Christ is everything and is in everything”

 

The Incarnation means God identifying with the human species. There is the Christic structure in all of us. Everything is open to infinite growth because God’s being, in whose image we are created, is love, communication, infinite openness. This total communication is called “Son” or “Word” in God. It means that creation possesses the structure of the Son in as much as everything communicates itself, maintains an external relationship, and realises itself by self-giving. The Son is active in the world from the very moment of creation. This activity becomes concentrated when the Word became flesh in Jesus and finally spread throughout the cosmos through the Resurrection: “Christ is everything and is in everything“- Colossians 1.17.

It took concrete form in Jesus because he, from all eternity, was thought of and loved as the focal being in which God would be totally manifested outside God. The Incarnation finishes the complete inter-weaving of God and humankind, in a total unity. Jesus is the exemplar of what will happen to all human beings and the totality of creation. He is the future already realised.

Again, in the Book of Genesis, God gives us the task of naming Creation for God, and tells us that is the name by which it will be known. Considering our track record, it seems that God was backing a loser! Unless – God always intended to become part of Creation. But looking around at the mess the world is in – the fear, the evil, the injustice, the abuse – we could be excused for asking will it ever happen, will Creation ever achieve its purpose of becoming one with the divine?

It already has achieved its purpose – in Jesus we have what is uncreated and what is created totally one. What is in Jesus will be in the rest of Creation by the way those who believe actually live in the world. I used to wonder about all the names we are supposed to think up to name Creation for God, until I found Francis of Assisi – and he tells us the names by which Creation is known are sister and brother, because God is Abba for all of us, through friar Christ.

The coming of Jesus marks not the beginning of a uniquely divine enterprise but its completion. Chardin points out that in the biological part of our existence we could not evolve much further, God has achieved what God set out to achieve; and the coming of God among us in the biological embodiment of Jesus affirms this.

But Jesus is more than a biological creature; as divine he is the transforming of the biological state into which humans will now evolve – with new powers of mind and spirit – which reaches its highest expression in Jesus Risen. To reduce the human story to the past 2000 years diminishes God’s role in the whole creation story. Putting Jesus on a divine pedestal leaves no room for a radically new way of being human.

AMcC

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20 February, Inter-galactic Exploration, XXIII: Peeeeeeeeeeeep! Peeeeeeeeeeep! part 2.

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‘Well,’ said Ajax after Will and Abel had taken themselves back to the railway station. ‘What do you make of that story?’
‘I liked Callum,’ said Alfie, ‘but he seemed a bit aggressive to start with.’
‘So, my friends,’ aked T. ‘Which was the real Callum? “Nasty piece of work” or “you made my day”?’
‘I guess if someone expects you to be a nasty piece of work, that’s what they’ll see, but I smelt anger coming out of him,’ said Alfie. ‘That was before we heard about him at school.’
‘And what if Will had been stealing you? Surely he’d have been righteously angry on my behalf?’
‘But you would not want Will beaten up by an angry law enforcer,’ countered Ajax.
‘He was never going to be touched by Callum, except for that handshake. Once Callum knew the dogs were OK, then Will was OK. And when Callum recognised Will he stopped being a cop and became just a human being. Mind, I might get Sergeant Callum to have a word about the way Will lets Abel stuff you with treats when you have perfectly balanced K9Krunchees in the bowls here.’
‘Leave Abel alone,’said Alfie. ‘K9Krunchees are better than certain other scientific foods we all remember. Adequate but incomplete, the old six foods and four drinks, but K9Krunchees seem to give me an appetite for more interesting things that you couldn’t sniff out in your human disguise.’
WT.

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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.

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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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