Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rethinking God VII

Massacio's Crucifixion, typical
of late medieval art emphasizing
the humanity of Christ
Well, let’s get back to our postings on revisioning God (see entries for November 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17).  I had mentioned how our concepts of God have evolved over the centuries since that point at which what are known as the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—made their first contact with Y-WH Sabaoth some four thousand years ago when He first picked up with this wild and unshaven band of nomadic outlaws from Ur of the Chaldees.  I mentioned in previous postings that it took the Hebrew people some thousand years or more to come to monotheism and to realize that this God of theirs was not one of several gods but is God Alone.  In the process too they seem to have consolidated Him with another deity they knew and worshiped—Elohim.  And then it took some time more to realize that while this Deity was far from vegetarian, human sacrifice was not on His menu.  Along the way various new stories emerged about Him and how the world and all its inhabitants came to be and sometimes those stories conflicted with one another.  That was not a problem—the People of God could live with some ambiguity.
Christianity provoked new developments in our understanding of God as the believers in Jesus as mashiah gradually came to appreciate that Jesus somehow shared in the Divine Nature of the Deity he referred to as his (and our) Abba.  From this awareness developed the notion of the Trinity—that God is One in Divinity but three in distinct Persons: The Father (Y-WH, The Son (who is become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth) and the Holy Spirit.  This did not happen at once—nor was the awareness complete in biblical times but only in the second and third centuries with substantial disagreements lasting into the fourth and fifth and—at least in regards to what the Divinity of Jesus means—even later. 
With Christianity and the emergence of a Trinitarian awareness, the Second Person of the Trinity—incarnate in Jesus—eclipsed the primacy of the First Person (Y-WH, the Father) not in theory but certainly in the devotional life of the faithful.  Jesus, as the Mediator with the Father, became the Presence of God most familiar and most adored.  Jesus was seen primarily as the Great Heavenly High Priest who stands at the heavenly Throne of Grace interceding for us.  He also was seen as the King who will come at the end of time as Judge and Ruler.  But this perception too would change in time.  In the late eleventh century Anselm of Canterbury wrote Cur Deus Homo, a theological treatise explaining why (cur)  God (Deus) had become human (homo)  in the Incarnation of the Divine Son as Jesus of Nazareth.  We won’t go into his answer here, but we need to note that historically this would also cause a great theological shift as Christians from the twelfth century through the fourteenth centuries would greatly emphasize the human nature of Christ whereas for centuries from the sixth through the eleventh they had emphasized his Divinity.  Now we see less and less of the King seated on the throne of Judgment and more and more of the tender babe in his mother’s arms or the naked and dying savior hanging on the cross.       
Now why I have been writing about this is so that we can see that the faithful—the People of Israel in their Covenant and the Christians in ours have not been passive recipients of doctrine but have played the active role of shaping the faith.  It is not the role of a Magisterium to define the Truth and for God’s people to passively accept their word as dogma.  The faith as it bubbled up through the sacred writers of the Scriptures and in the decrees of the Councils and later in the teachings of the Church bubbled up from the hearts of God’s people as they reflected on their experience of God.  Again—I am not writing theologically here and have no interest in this blog of doing a “theology of revelation.”  I am writing from a historical viewpoint.  It was not Abraham nor even Moses who came to “define” God in a monotheistic understanding.  They were long in their graves before the People of Israel were weaned away from polytheism.  It was not Paul, much less Peter, who defined the hypostatic union of the Divine and Human Natures in the One Person Jesus Christ or taught that God is one in Divine Nature but Three in distinct Persons.  If this had been taught definitively by the apostles there would have been no arguments over it in the third and fourth centuries.  These understandings arose over time within the hearts of the Christian people.  It was not the bishops who insisted that Jesus was one in Divine Nature with the Father.  Newman reminds us that the majority of the bishops had bought into the Arian heresy hook, line, and sinker.  The issue wasn’t even settled with the Council of Nicea—Arianism flourished for a further two centuries after Nicea.  It was the faith of the faithful that clarified the doctrine.
And so too today—the problem is not that the faithful are not listening to the bishops; the problem is that the bishops are not listening to the faithful.  Our faith in not static.  There are serious issues facing the Church today, issues that require some key teachings of faith and especially of morals to be critically reexamined.  Pontifications will not resolve these issues but rather the Church—the entire Church—magisterium, theologians, and faithful need to build consensus.  All three voices must realize this is not a time we can afford disunity but rather where we must bravely enter into deep and prayerful reflection and dialogue to come to understand the faith the Church—the whole Church—holds.   

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