q. i. f.?


At this point, we must ask an even more fundamental and general question: What does it mean to speak of a “name of God”? When God receives names in the Old Testament, can this be anything more than a reminiscence of the polytheistic world in which Israel’s faith in God was obliged to struggle step by step to find its own form? This view may seem to find support in the fact that the individual names of God, which are numerous in the early strata of the tradition, disappear gradually, as the Old Testament faith develops; although the name “Yahweh” is retained, the Second Commandment meant that it had ceased to be uttered long before the time of Jesus. The New Testament no longer knows any proper name of God; one contributory factor here was the fact that in the Greek Old Testament, the name “Yahweh” had already been largely replaced by the term “Lord”. But this is only one aspect of the matter. It is indeed true that the individual names of God disappear once the polytheistic beginnings are left behind; but is also true that the idea that God has a name plays a decisive role precisely in the New Testament. In many ways, one may regard the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel as the high point of the development of the New Testament faith, and this brief text speaks four times of “the name of God”. The principal part of the text, in verses 6 and 26, is set within the framework of Jesus’ testimony to his own mission, which consists in making known to men the name of God. Jesus appears here as the new Moses who now accomplishes completely and in reality what had begun in a fragmentary and hidden manner at the burning bush in the wilderness.

wait, there’s more.

It’s a couple of months, probably, since I was in a church on a Sunday. (Not for lack of interest, certainly. Regular failure to get my act together enough, on the weekend, so as to act from my own felt interest — that’d probably be the summary judgment. But unavoidable circumstance has had a role in there.) This morning I made it to an early service. I was aware of course, in back of my mind somewhere, that the Pope is in the UK on tour for a few days, during which he is to declare Newman beatified. But I’m in my own corner of the globe and wasn’t thinking about the UK this morning. The priest presiding where I was visiting, then, at first caught me a little off guard with his rambling reflection (unconnected to the readings & more or less in lieu of homily) on the occasion, which he’d watched taking place a few hours earlier, and on Newman’s influence on popes in his time & since, on various bishops of Baltimore, &c.

Early in his talk he trotted out the famous verses written by Newman while young & a rising Anglican — as I can imagine hundreds of other priests all over are also doing today. And I had to be, and am, grateful for it. I don’t know them well — so no sentimental attachment — and find it easy to slight them as the sort of thing that gets icon standing in Christian culture for iffy-to-bad reasons, reasons quite apart from artistic merit & so on. Yet I am in that very position where very subjective words like these, and some little anecdote about the author to go with them, do good for me because of little that has to do with any deft poetic capture of things or elicited moment of (re)discovery, much or everything to do with the turn back around to myself & my frustrations in interpreting my own experience. The week I’ve just come off, in fact, was one particularly suited to bring home how unpleasant the last six or seven years have mostly been for me — a fresh taste of the old disappointments pressing in, the periods of self-torment, &c. &c. Really, this morning was a good time for me to be read a mediocre verse prayer for knowing the light I think I’m after, for capability to be led, for not losing heart if indeed I’m being led. And a good day, in any event, to make it to a church.

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
      Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home —
      Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
      Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
      Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
      Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
      The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Cardinal Kasper described ecumenism as work that is “not done at the desk.” “Dialogue is life,” he said. “Dialogue is an integral part of the life of the Church.”

The Church has been horrifyingly corrupt in previous eras and still survived. It’s been led by ecclesiastics who make Bernard Law’s hands look clean, and still survived. It’s faced fiercer enemies than Richard Dawkins and still survived. Time after time, Chesterton wrote, ‘the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.’ Each time, ‘it was the dog that died.’ But if the Church isn’t finished, period, it can still be finished for certain people, in certain contexts, in certain times. And so it is in this case: for millions in Europe and America, Catholicism is probably permanently associated with sexual scandal, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ross Douthat, in a little piece for this month’s Atlantic’s ‘Ideas’ feature.

I have set the Lord always before me;
Because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad and my flesh rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For you will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In your presence is fullness of joy.

Harvey Cox says we’ve entered the Age of the Spirit, where dogma is less important than spirituality for many Christians.

We see the light!

The fact that, according to the [first] Vatican Council, not only episcopalism but also papalism in the narrow sense should be regarded as a condemned doctrine is something that must no doubt be impressed in the public consciousness of the Christian world to a far greater extent than has hitherto been the case. In the great historical struggle of these two powerful movements, it puts itself neither on one side nor on the other, but creates a new position that goes beyond all human conceptualization in formulating the peculiar nature of the Church, which ultimately springs, not from man’s judgment, but from the word of God.
   . . . Episcopacy and primacy, according to Catholic belief, are divinely given factors of the Church. Consequently, for the Catholic theologian there can be no question of playing one off against the other; he can only try to learn to understand more profoundly the living mutual relationship between the two and thus, of course, through his thinking, to serve its realization, which does indeed come about through men and is at all times a human and broken form of the given factor, of what God has given and given up for us in advance. K. Rahner has tried to explain this mutual relationship in more detail, on the basis of the concept of communion. That is, and doubtless remains, the central approach, inasmuch as the Church is, in her inmost nature,
communio, a sharing of and fellowship in the body of the Lord. The reflection that the Church of the incarnate Word is in turn the Church of the word, and not just of the sacrament, leads us to a complementary aspect: sacrament and word are the two pillars upon which the Church stands — and we find in the relationship of these two elements, yet again, a polarity of unity-and-duality that cannot be further analyzed; this is the sign of something living that precedes and goes beyond any logical constructions and can never be entirely enclosed within them. Yet if in our investigations we start from the word, we are led to the concept of successio, which is affected, not . . . by the reality of communion, but by the struggle concerning the ‘word’; and it is there that it finds its proper place, even though it does in fact necessarily include the realm of communion as well. The problem of primacy and episcopacy is reflected in the concept of succession . . . .

From a 1961 essay, ‘Primacy, Episcopate, and Successio Apostolica’, by Joseph Ratzinger.

The book concludes with a meditation on “the blood of Christ.” Though not directly an explication of Barth’s views, it displays his influence even as it captures a thread that runs through the volume as a whole, from political to doctrinal to ecumenical theology. If Jesus Christ is, as Barth urged, the center of Christian theology, Christ’s cross is the center of the center. The Trinity, the incarnation, and the cross are linked, as it were, by a golden chain. Whenever the linkages among them are somehow severed or weakened, as unfortunately regularly happens, abstraction, misconception, and thinness can only be the result. The Trinity deteriorates, for example, to a social agenda, the incarnation to an experiential symbol, the cross to a supposed warrant for abuse. In the end the cross is a scandal because Israel is a scandal, with its ineffaceable particularity of election, expiation, purity, and difference for the sake of the world. The blood of Christ is repugnant to the Gentile mind, whether ancient or modern. This mind would prevail were it not continually disrupted by grace.
   Grace that is not disruptive is not grace — a point that Flannery O’Connor well grasped alongside Karl Barth. Grace, strictly speaking, does not mean continuity but radical discontinuity, not reform but revolution, not violence but nonviolence, not the perfecting of virtues but the forgiveness of sins, not improvement but resurrection from the dead. It means repentance, judgment, and death as the portal to life. It means negation and the negation of the negation. The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free. Grace may of course work silently and secretly like a germinating seed as well as like a bolt from the blue. It is always wholly as incalculable as it is unreliable, unmerited, and full of blessing. Yet it is necessarily as unsettling as it is comforting. It does not finally teach of its own sufficiency without appointing a thorn in the flesh. Grace is disruptive because God does not compromise with sin, nor ignore it, nor call it good. On the contrary, God removes it by submitting to the cross to show that love is stronger than death.

From George Hunsinger‘s introduction to his collection Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth. (Recommended to me by Princetonian Matthew Milliner.)

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For he has visited and redeemed his people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of his servant David,
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets
Who have been since the world began,
That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember his holy covenant.

Traditional religion’s ethereal immortality doesn’t strike Martine Rothblatt as much of a trade-off for dying.
   To the millionaire entrepreneur, who launched both Sirius Satellite Radio and one of Maryland’s largest biotech companies, death is both tragic and, through not-yet-invented technology, avoidable.
   Rothblatt embraces a more tangible immortality, a digital, downloadable one — a “transreligion for technological times.” And she’s asking you to join in, by uploading everything about yourself to the Internet so researchers can spend the next couple of decades figuring out how to create a digital version of you to transfer to an alternate body when your current one dies.

That’s the opener to a longish article in today’s Baltimore Sun. An awful lot might be said about this item, about even just these initial few sentences. Let’s limit ourselves here, though, to the following brief reflection: that whatever the category of ‘traditional religion’ at the article’s beginning is supposed to include, it doesn’t include anything that could be regarded seriously as the Christian tradition. No merely ‘ethereal immortality’ is a feature of traditional Christian religion. A bodily resurrection, a bodily life to come, and one Man who has already realized this resurrection in his own body and in whom his people already find that very life opened to them, whole and eternal: these are what Christian tradition firmly insists on. You don’t have to be a theologian to get this, you just have to read the New Testament with a little care. On this much, if nothing else, that collection of documents is repetitiously direct & very consistent.

Why it should be that in popular views of Christianity this centrality of resurrection isn’t more widely grasped is a problem that still hasn’t been studied enough, maybe.

(In fact, by the way, it’s the idea of a ‘transferable’ personality, of personality which merely inhabits one or more bodies rather than being of itself, in part, body, that leaves immortality an essentially ‘ethereal,’ intangible possibility. And to say that that’s what it must mean for the human being to have immortality — if there is any human immortality — doesn’t just reinterpret an ancient concept found in various religions, it puts a distinctive definition to the idea of the human — with extensive repercussions for social understanding & for our common life. But that’s another discussion.)

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