Friday, November 06, 2015

Year of Mercy

Official logo for the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS/courtesy Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization)I am sure the Year of Mercy is going to yield great fruit, I am impressed by the initiatives that my own bishop seems to be coming up with: encouragement to a deeper devotion in the Church and initiatives for the our Church to reach out beyond the Church, especially with justice and peace initiatives. It is important that we see the Church as a leaven within society.

One thing I am a little concerned with, partly because it is a modern trend, is the idea of separating a phenomenon like mercy, from the person of Jesus Christ. If we separate anything from the person of Jesus it is likely to 'move beyond Jesus', and be more about a humanistic philosophical interpretation of 'mercy', rather than the flesh and blood presentation of Jesus the Merciful.

Once something is cut loose from Jesus it becomes open to any interpretation, something based on semantics rather than revelation. 'Love' for example, in a Christian context has to be seen through the prism of the Incarnation and the Cross. In a secular context it can be reduced to sentimentality or even lust, or simple personal preferences.

The Church in the past has always presented 'mercy' in strongly Christological terms: in the image of the Crucified, or the wounds of Christ, or the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the often gloomy image of Divine Mercy. It always comes back to the person of Jesus. At the heart of Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth is the idea that Jesus proclaims the Kingdom and the Church proclaims Jesus.

Some of the speeches at the Synod, suggested a 'moving beyond Jesus theology' (I am reminded of those US Sisters), not just the terrifying Ultramontanism of some of the Fathers, 'the Pope can twist God's hand', 'some people prefer Tradition (meaning Scripture and Revelation) to to the Pope' but others like 'Moses was more merciful than Jesus'. The Instrumentum Laboris drawn up by Synod's controllers, presumably under the control of those close to the office of the Pope suggested that Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) were, let us say, not at the heart of the document, as if there were some abstract, even secular notion of family and marriage, and more importantly of the inclusion of people practising homosexual sexual activity and people committed to permanent state of adultery. One can do that if one leaves out Revelation.

The Mercy of Christ is what is revealed in the scriptures, essentially what is shown is limited, we know: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.… But what about those who don't believe, those up the Amazon, those who were born and died before the Incarnation?

What scripture, or at least the New Testament is addressed to, and is concerned with, are those who believe in Jesus Christ. It is not addressed to is non-believers, so therefore what scripture does say about their fate, can to modern man can seem somewhat harsh and even unmerciful. Jesus speaks about dividing light and darkness, about doors being closed, about judgement already be upon the world or taken on themselves by unbelievers, about weeping and teeth gnashing, about the separation of sheep and goats, about the absolute necessity for metanoia, conversion, not merely of  life but to the person of Jesus Christ.

We might hope that granny, who never darkened the door of a church or prayed since childhood, who headed the local white witch coven for a few years and then seems to have become a Buddhist and had a very pleasant life with Uncle Willy, to whom she was not married, might be united with him in heaven but this is speculation, rather than Revelation. Similarly the hope that the good Jew or the good Moslem being saved either because the were good or because they adhered to their own religion is speculation. Even the destiny of unborn (and therefore unbaptised) is speculative. Speculators invented Limbo, to avoid following Augustine's interpretation of scripture which would consign them to the pains of hell. The more honest answer might be that we simply do know what happens to them, we merely hope. Modern speculators, more in line with the 'ground of being' theories of 19th century German philosophy, invented the idea of the 'anonymous Christian', which actually seems quite contrary to scripture and stretched the idea of 'baptism by desire' beyond anything know before.

Islam might happily embrace God, 'Allah the Merciful' but it is un-incarnate mercy, Christianity has something else, Jesus Christ, God made Flesh, who died for sinners. There is a difference, as there is with the secular idea of 'unconditional love' an idea unknown in Revelation, which gives the idea of 'infinite love', the two are quite different and not interchangeable

A quibble, that logo. I have a difficulty with it, not just the ugliness of the image but with the words 'merciful like the Father', isn't it that we Christians only know the Father through the Son? He shows us the nature of the Father's mercy and we are called to imitate him, the Son, so shouldn't it really say 'merciful like the Son'?


Pastor in Monte said...

The term 'anonymous Christian' is a twentieth century one, of course, but the concept is not foreign to the Church. St Justin Martyr (died c165 ad) taught something similar with his idea of the 'logos spermatikos', which led him to say that even Plato was a sort of Christian.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think σπερματικός λόγος would apply to the Sybil too, and to those pagans who pointed directly to Christ, I suspect it was rhetorical device - would Justin have taken on a Rahnerian stance - doubt it

Cosmos said...

I think the idea of their being righteous women and men outside of the Church who are very pleasing to God and will share eternity with him through his direct intervention is compatible with our faith.

The problem is that Catholicism, interpreting scripture, has always taught that men are fallen, and that living righteously is a very daunting task. Christianity represents an incredible act of mercy whereby those who are unworthy are made worthy through God's terrible and supreme Sacrifice. This "backdoor" into the Kingdom is the normal means for poor slobs like us to attain what is naturally attainable for very, very few.

In other words, if the standard for salvation outside the Church is "seek[ing] God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try[ing] in [one's] actions to do his will as [one] know it through the dictates of [one's] conscience," that is still a VERY DIFFICULT standard. Rahner uses the example of a Bhuddist monk! Is anyone really confident that they have met that standard themselves?

In reality, as Fr. Blake states, we have "developed" the idea of anonymous Christianity to do a lot more work than it can realistically do within the normal confines of traditional Catholic theology. Why? Because salvation through Jesus is a slap in the face of pluralistic democracy, which we are committed to as a society as a given. To imply that some have the "Words of Eternal Life," while some do not is, frankly, embarrassing to modern sensibilities and uncouth.

The fact is, that Christianity is a hard word, but that God is forgiving and merciful. We must hope in that mercy!

Unknown said...

Wonderful words, fostering true Christian unity, and also very courageous in the current context.

James C said...

I call that style of sacred art "fake primitive". That we produce just little of beauty in the Church today is a sure sign of our spiritual sickness.

Anonymous said...

What did Jesus say about His Divine Mercy? To find out read St Faustina Marie's diary and here and there He makes it plain who He is and who the Father is. Remember she was on the Index at one time.
Some theologian said as they did about Teresa Higginson Jesus does not want another devotion He is all that is needed.

Stephen Turton said...

Maybe, as suggested here in this article, things become 'antichrists' (if that's not too strong a word) as soon as they separate from Christ eg. if we really believe in Christ, then honesty compels us to think homosexual behaviour wrong, but a non-christian may be honestly appalled at the 'repression' by law once suffered for this behaviour and feel sympathy, so this would be honesty making us antichrist. Maybe the root of error is that we go into error about things as soon as we forget their context in Christ, an alternative to ignorance as the root of error as in scholasticism, unless we say ignorance of Christ is the root of error.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

What strange 'Catholic' times we live in. THE YEAR OF MERCY. No...limbo has not been dogmatically defined, but has a longstanding tradition that it should have been a shock to all Catholics, when Ratzinger said we were too 'modern' for such traditions. Apparently we are too 'modern' for Aquinas as well, according to the same.

Anonymous said...

Viterbo, I agree: " what strange Catholic times we live in"

Anita Moore said...

viterbo said...

What strange 'Catholic' times we live in. THE YEAR OF MERCY. No...limbo has not been dogmatically defined, but has a longstanding tradition that it should have been a shock to all Catholics, when Ratzinger said we were too 'modern' for such traditions. Apparently we are too 'modern' for Aquinas as well, according to the same.

Is Tradition in Action a schismatic site?

Nicolas Bellord said...

Sandro Magister at Chiesa refers to an article by Father Spadaro S.J. in Civilita. Sandro claims that this article would not have been published without the approval of Pope Francis and therefore it is an indication of the Pope's thinking. Another kite?

Sandro quotes verbatim the final passage of this article and entitles it:

"An open door to communion for the divorced and remarried."

which is Sandro's title and not one that appears in the original article. A bit naughty?

However he correctly reproduces one paragraph where the English translation reads as follows:

'The "Relatio synodi" incorporates the overall criterion expressed by St John Paul II in "Familiaris Consortio": "discerning the situation well". There is in fact a difference "between those who have made sincere efforts to save the first marriage and have been completely unjustly abandoned, and those who by their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage" (no.85). But there are also those who have contracted a second union in view of raising children, and are subjectively certain in conscience that the previous marriage, destroyed beyond repair, had never been valid (cf. no 84)'

Now if you refer to clause 84 of the Relatio Synodi there is no mention of people who subjectively believe that the previous marriage was never valid but merely to the divorced and remarried in general.

There is then mention of the 'internal forum' in Spadoro's article. Now certainly in the 1970s there was the idea current that those who sincerely believed that their first marriage was invalid and either had not yet got an annulment or had difficulty in getting one through lack of evidence etc could take communion. Now did Familiaris Consortio do away with this idea about the internal forum? Perhaps some learned reader of this blog could comment.

However, if this article does represent the thinking of the Pope, is the situation that we are only talking about those who sincerely believe with good reason that there first marriage was invalid? In which case this whole business of discernment ending in communion for the divorced and remarried is only going to apply to a very small subset of such who have this sincere belief.

The problem is that it is only on careful reading of this article that one spots this restriction which does not appear in the Relatio. It is an extremely long article and waffles on interminably so that this point is probably going to be lost in ambiguity and confusion. Is the Pope going to limit this process to what must be a relatively small group?

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

@Anita. Unfortunately 'traditioninaction' are fully-fledged-communal-Novus-Ordites, so yes, they are schismatics.

Anonymous said...

So point on! The singularity of Christianity is Jesus Christ's persona, embodied God and Holy Spirit. It's a unique religion and Christians being embarrassed with the particularities of their religion, excusing themselves over and over again on the internet that "Christianity is not a religion..." or playing dumb when asked about the Holy Trinity, brings me to real tears. Why is it so shameful to just believe these things in a world where some people want to worship satan for success is considered okay.
Since I am not Catholic, but Orthodox, I don't know the exact times when overcoming Christ was expressed at the Synod, but I think that despite his oddities Pope Francis did mention this aspect, or Christ's persona, several times.
To many it may look as if Christians we buy people to convert, if mercy and charity is linked to Jesus Christ. But this aspect cannot be proven until cases of charity should occur for Christians only. If a Christian gives to a non-Christian and talks of Jesus, just the act of giving without asking anything back proves that it is not a deal, it's not buying someone off.
I'm not a scholar so I may be off course, definitely not a Catholic one, but I just want to end with Scripture and tell me Father if I'm wrong:
" 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Peter 1-7 - charity in itself does not equal Christian charity which done in Jesus Christ gives more than just gold.

Anonymous said...

"These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Peter 1:7 - Christian charity is different than just charity, as "refined by fire" as that charity may be.

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