All posts tagged: Jesus Christ

Good Friday’s Silence Speaks

Silence speaks. On a first date, long periods of silence, say, “This is not going well. Why is this human being so painfully boring?” On a hike through a gorgeous mountain pass, silence bespeaks wonder at the created universe. At a funeral, silence signifies the pain of losing one we have loved so deeply. At a wedding, it testifies to the joy of nuptial love. In this way, silence is not the absence of meaning, but a kind of privileged form of poetic discourse.  Silence is the linguistic posture of wonder, of awe, of mourning, of contemplation. The Good Friday liturgy begins in silence, the priest and deacons processing through the aisle then lying prostrate upon the floor. Indeed, the silence in the church on Good Friday is as much visual as aural. The altar, bare. The cross, empty. The Eucharist, absent. Candles, snuffed out. Even the stomach is empty. Yet, as the liturgy progresses something begins to happen to the permeating silence. It gives up its space to the word, to the image. Lengthy …

Reading the Writing in the Dirt

How do you read it? This question, posed to Jesus repeatedly throughout the Gospels, reminds us that interpretation of God’s Law was fundamental to Jesus’s life as a 1st century Jewish rabbi. It remains important today in the Church and no less controversial, as could be seen from the difficult questions on canon law and scriptural interpretation which have rocked the Catholic Church in the past years. Many vexed questions beat at the heart of these ecclesial disputes, but surely the question of how to interpret the Scriptures and ecclesial law in a way that respects both God’s justice and mercy reverberates beneath them all. As we turn inward for self-examination this Lent and seek to find God’s justice and mercy in our own lives too, the question of interpretation becomes personally paramount. To find our way, we can do no better in reflecting on this than to look at how Jesus himself held together the requirements for both justice and mercy in the interpretation of God’s Law. Neither can be omitted. As Pope Francis …

Life, Language, and Christ Today

I. The Problem of Language Today: The Inadequacy of the Usual Philosophical Answers Language as such is a problem today. The fact that language is a problem is felt in the perpetual oscillation between overvaluing and undervaluing it within modern thought. For example, Ernst Renan—the 19th century French rationalist inventor of the “historical Jesus” fiction—deliberately identified human language with the divine Logos. For him, what previous thinkers dubbed “the divine origin” of language was merely a metaphor. Language results simply from the interplay of mankind’s natural faculties with the natural world. In this world no revelation was possible for Renan. The most divine ideas present in sacred literature are nothing but sublimations of human, all too human, thoughts. In this way, the world becomes entirely disenchanted—just as human language becomes all-powerful, the only provider of meaning in the world. Michel Henry stands at the other end of the spectrum. According to this prominent phenomenologist, since from the outset language situates thought in exteriority, because language brings about an essential division between words and things, it …

Kneeling Theology: Believing in Order to See Scripture

At the very center of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, both as pope and as a private theologian, is an awareness of the absolute necessity of the conversion of one’s whole self to Christ within the wider communal life of the Church. According to Lieven Boeve, conversion is for Ratzinger “the most fundamental structure of the Christian faith . . . In almost all of his writings from the 1960’s to the 1980’s this theme surfaces over and over again.”[1] It is an essential element of the Christian state of life, because at the heart of Christianity stands the person of Jesus Christ, the Christian’s recognition that he is not Christ, and the incessant clarion call that one must become more and more subsumed into Christ’s very life and person. And, if one hears and accepts the call to conversion and commits the whole of one’s self to God time and again, then by the grace of God one acquires a certain holiness of life. Faith, conversion, and holiness, then, all go hand-in-hand with one …

The Stare of Medusa and the Return Gaze of Christ

It is just one of Nietzsche’s many bon mots that if one stares at evil long enough it looks back. As is usual with Nietzsche there is an implied boast. We divide into the strong and the weak depending on whether we can or are willing to endure this look or looking back. Nietzsche leaves us in no doubt as to which camp he belongs in, even if with all the bravado about amor fati we sometimes get the impression in reading him that he is expecting as much our pity as our admiration. Still, the aphorism is powerful, and it is powerful not only because it is scintillating in its expression, but because it is experientially apt. Over the centuries, as they looked at and into the world, victims as well as victimizers have experienced the force of that look or counter-look that announced that all hope should be abandoned and that our abused flesh empty itself of everything that makes it human and all will to be human. With regard to victims we …

Introduction to Christianity: Bestseller Around the World

In the winter semester of 1900, the Lutheran, liberal-minded theologian Adolf von Harnack gave in sixteen lectures, at the University of Berlin, a course designed for students from all the faculties entitled ‘‘The Essence of Christianity,’’[1] which recalled the title of a work by Ludwig Feuerbach, published in 1841. The lectures were soon collected in a volume that became a classic of Lutheran theology, one of the cornerstones of liberal thought against which Karl Barth thundered. Where Feuerbach proved to be destructive, Harnack turned out to be reductive, subjecting God to the measure of man, who ended up taking the upper hand over God’s own holiness. Later, in the late 1920s, in Tübingen, a Catholic dogmatic theologian, Karl Adam, also gave a lecture course on the nature of Catholicism.[2] In opposition to modernism, Adam argued that the Catholic Church is a community capable of acting and suffering, of praying and loving, of growing and preserving unity. Moreover, it has grown enormously since A.D. 33, the year of Jesus’ death, but at the same time has …

What Did Pope Francis Mean to Say with His Strange Abuse Crisis Letter?

I was received into the Roman Catholic Church exactly one calendar year before Pope Francis published his letter in response to the most recent paroxysm over the Church’s sexual abuse scandal and its cover up.[1] I have been a Christian my entire life, at once nurtured in the Gospel message that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” and recurrently disappointed by the faithlessness and callous immorality of Christians. About a decade of appropriating the Catholic intellectual tradition finally folded me into the Roman flock (though marrying a Latina Catholic from Texas played a role as well). The small boat of Pietist Evangelicalism in which I was raised welcomed philosophy and theological speculation, but the broader Evangelical sea by which it was tossed contained an aged Leviathan of anti-intellectualism. Along the way, I learned from Catholic thinkers about intellectual persistence, hermeneutical charity, patience of judgment, and how to distinguish reflections that are exciting in implication from those that are reliable in their conclusions. In light of recent revelations and accusations, I have felt a terrible …

Modern Biology’s Contribution to Our Understanding of Christ’s Sufferings

It is common to come across internet articles, television documentaries, or advertisements for books in the days and weeks preceding Easter detailing scientifically the nature and extent of the sufferings experienced by Christ during his Passion. From these you graduate from a notional apprehension of the sufferings of Christ understood abstractly and instead begin to grasp his Passion more realistically and painfully. For example, one might read of the tremendous suffering that Christ endured while his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross, which would have pierced a number of major nerves, sending waves of excruciating pain up and down his limbs. Each and every breath on the Cross would have become more and more difficult and agonizing, since to breathe while nailed to the Cross entailed using the nails in his wrists as leverage against which to lift his body to inhale and exhale. Or, to use another example, some scientists estimate that Christ would have lost anywhere from a quarter to a third of his blood supply by being scourged at the …

Work: A Four-Letter Word?

There is a certain ambiguity in Scripture about the meaning and value of labor, and I am aware of no clear and positive statement on the subject by the Church. Rerum novarum and Quadragesima anno just don’t really approach the subject, and especially not from a more modern scriptural viewpoint. What I have to suggest on this topic hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of what the idea of work might be for a Catholic, but I do think it might open up some avenues for thought. Genesis has God laboring for six days and then resting (Gen 2:1–4), although this does not seem to mean that labor is tiring even for God; it seems rather to show him as a model for our freedom on the Sabbath day, a gift God gives us by his example. Genesis 3:17–19, on the other hand, takes the position that labor is indeed a curse, at least in the way that Adam and Eve would have to do it after the Fall. Job takes a very negative view of …

A Prayer for the Rich?

David Bentley Hart has done us a great service by sharing his expertise as a biblical scholar in his informative background essay on debt structures in human and biblical history, “A Prayer for the Poor.” In it he establishes a context that Christ’s original hearers would have been steeped in, but which, as he points out, is too easily missed by over-spiritualized readings of the Gospels. Expounding on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which he persuasively argues are rooted in remarkably concrete needs, Hart lambastes common interpretations that would cushion the conscience by reducing this most famous Christian prayer to a set of “vague, ethereal, painless pieties.” Something is indeed wrong if one can recite such a prayer while perpetuating injustice against the needy with no sense of discomfort or disconnect. Much as we need such a reminder against spiritualizing away the prayer’s meaning, a problem arises when Hart at times veers into the opposite reductionism toward the purely material. Perhaps this material reduction is based on translation principles that assume a singular, static …