East and West In Christ

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who Do You Say I Am?

I found myself arguing with Father DeSalvo quite unintentionally last night when he spoke about Jesus really being born in March and 6 April as the actual date of easter. I did not realize how reactive I had become toward "news" about the historical Jesus. I was greatly impressed as a late teen reading Jesus: An Experiment in Christology with historical criticism of scripture, accepting (like many others) that new truth was being revealed about Jesus. However, as I became exposed to the Third Wave through E.P. Sanders in the 1980s, I began to realize that this "news" was more polemic than history ("In the end, one no longer learns what the text says, but what it should have said, and by which component parts this can be traced back through the text.").

One example is the idea that is pertinent to the tension between West and East: the Pharisees were very "external" in their religion and that Jesus had come to replace that "external religion" with "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it". I adopted that belief as historical, although others had challenged that, too, as polemical, but I found it too convenient to ignore.

Now I find brilliant exegesis on the subject and I am humbled, yet again. Now the "head" is not the hypocrital enemy of the "heart". Once, again, they meet at the cross.

"Jesus did not act as a liberal reformer recommending and himself presenting a more understanding interpretation of the law. In Jesus' exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy. Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel. Rather Jesus opened up the law quite theologically conscious of, and claiming to be, acting as Son, with the authority of God himself, in innermost unity with God, the Father. Only God himself could fundamentally reinterpret the law and manifest that its broadening transformation and conservation is its actually intended meaning. Jesus' interpretation of the law makes sense only if it is interpretation with divine authority, if God interprets himself. The quarrel between Jesus and the Jewish authorities of his time is finally not a matter of this or that particular infringement of the law but rather of Jesus' claim to act "ex auctoritate divina," indeed, to be this "auctoritas" himself. "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30).

Only when one penetrates to this point can he also see the tragic depth of the conflict. On the one hand, Jesus broadened the law, wanted to open it up, not as a liberal reformer, not out of a lesser loyalty to the law, but in strictest obedience to its fulfillment, out of his being one with the Father in whom alone law and promise are one and in whom Israel could become blessing and salvation for the nations. On the other hand, Israel "had to" see here something much more serious than a violation of this or that commandment, namely, the injuring of that basic obedience, of the actual core of its revelation and faith: Hear, O Israel, your God is one God. Here obedience and obedience clash, leading to the conflict which had to end on the cross. Reconciliation and separation appear thus to be tied up in a virtually insolvable paradox.

In the catechism's theology of the New Testament the cross cannot simply be viewed as an accident which actually could have been avoided nor as the sin of Israel with which Israel becomes eternally stained in contrast to the pagans for whom the cross signifies redemption. In the New Testament there are not two effects of the cross: a damning one and a saving one, but only a single effect, which is saving and reconciling."

(Cardinal Ratzinger, Reconciling Gospel And Torah: The Catechism, Section 3, 1 April 1996)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

If Anyone Desires To Come After Me

At a meeting this past weekend, I heard Father Maximos emphasize that monastics are lay people giving radical witness to their baptismal vows. I was surprised by this statement. I've often heard John Michael refer to St. John Chysostom's teaching that all people, included those married, are called to a monasic life: "What then are these things [labors, readings, watchings through the night, fastings] to us (one says) who are not monastics? Sayest thou this to me? Say it to Paul, when he says, "Watching with all perseverance and supplication" (Eph. vi. 18), when he says, "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." (Rom. xiii. 14.) For surely he wrote not these things to solitaries only, but to all that are in cities. For ought the man who lives in the world to have any advantage over the solitary, save only the living with a wife? In this point he has allowance, but in others none, but it is his duty to do all things equally with the solitary[Hom. in Epist. ad Haeb., 7, 41.] Homily VII on the letter to the Hebrews.

Now, I find "The Western Church has canonized monasticism and the lay state as two forms of life. One corresponds to the “counsels,” the other to the “precepts” of the Gospel. . . . The essentially homogenous character of Eastern Church spirituality ignores the difference between the “precepts” and the “evangelical counsels". It is in its total demands that the Gospel addresses itself to everyone, everywhere.“When Christ,” says St. John Chrysostom, “orders us to follow the narrow path, he addresses himself to all. The monastics and the lay person must attain the same heights.” [Epist. ad Haeb., 7, 4; 7, 41 Adv. oppugn. vitae monast., 3, 14.] "

This "homogenous character" is surprising to me. I once got a stern lecture from a good monk when I stated that there was no difference between the two of us as Christians (I was thinking of the "precepts" at the time; he emphasized the "counsels"). The "Eastern Church spirituality" certainly leaves me disoriented, not because I'm in disagreement but because I have to shift my world to the more primitive monasticism I've only read about and am now encountering. The odd thing is that I already knew these things intellectually; it's just that the reality of the difference between us was only our "dress" really smacked me upside the head.