Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22 - Christmas and Eschatology

“The Incarnation of the Word means that God does not merely want to come to the spirit of man, through the Spirit, but that he is seeking him through and in the material world, that he also in fact wants to encounter him as a social and historical being. God wants to come to men through men. God has approached men in such a way that through him, and on account of him, they can find their way to one another. Thus the Incarnation includes the communal and historical aspects of faith. Taking the way of the body means that time, as a reality, and the social nature of man become features of man’s relationship with God, features that are in turn based upon God’s existing relationship with man. God’s action brings into being ‘the People of God,’ and ‘the People of God,’ on the basis of Christ, become ‘the body of Christ’ … The ultimate goal for us all is that of becoming happy. Yet happiness exists only in company with each other, and we can keep company only in the infinity of love. There is happiness only in the removal of the barriers of the self in moving into divinity, in becoming divine.”[1]

Note that the opening line refers to the third age of salvation history proclaimed by Joachim of Fiore [d. 1202] where Christ had been the turning point into the third age of the Spirit. Jesus Christ would not then be considered the End of man, but a pivotal figure in world history. Man would continue on now in pursuit of sanctity which would be achieved at the end of time which would be identified with the Parousia as Second Coming of Christ and the end of history.

About this, Joseph Ratzinger commented: “For the first thousand years of Christian theology, Christ is not the turning-point of history at which a transformed and redeemed world begins, nor is He the point at which the unredeemed history prior to His appearance is terminated. Rather, Christ is the beginning of the end. He is ‘salvation’ in as far as in Him the ‘end’ has already broken into history. Viewed from an historical perspective salvation consists in this end which He inaugurates, while history will run on for a time, so to say per nefas and will bring the old aeon of this world to an end.

Ratzinger point is that the “End” has already been given and is present now. He then went on disapprovingly: “The idea of seeing Christ as the axis of world history was prepared for by Rupert, Honorius and Anselm. But it appears clearly for the first time in Joachim; and even here it is somewhat hidden at first by the fact that the history of the world has not one but two axes and that it is made up not of two but of three great periods. The rejection of this latter notion was effected forcibly by the triumph of orthodox dogma; but the other idea remained. Consequently Joachim became the path-finder within the church for a new understanding of history which to us today appears to be so self-evident that it seems to be the Christian understanding. It may be difficult for us to believe that there was a time [the first millennium] when this was not the case. It is here that the true significance of Joachim is to be found…. It should be clear that the church and redemption are rendered historical in an entirely new way which cannot be a matter of indifference for the history of dogma nor for systematic theology… A new eschatological consciousness develops here, and it is demanded precisely by the new manner in which the church as it has existed up to the present is interpreted historically… (A) truly good and redeemed history is yet to come since an unredeemed and defective history continues after Christ.”[2]

This is a most important point in the mind of the pope. It would explain the ennui and boredom in which we are mired. There is no fire in the faith for which God became man, and is at the root of the non-experience of Christ. God is not known, and if He is known, it is not an adventurous experience. Even if God exists, He is not needed. We need only ourselves and our science and technology. We are bored. Everything continues the same in its misery. His exegesis of John the Baptist is apposite to this: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Lk. 7, 20) Christ responds: Look at the miracles that are taking place right under your nose: "The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Lk. 7, 22). What is needed is life of faith in the presence of Jesus Christ now Who is with us until the consummation of the world (Mt. 28, 19-20).

[1] “Benedictus - Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI,” December 22 p. 385, taken from Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith… pp. 165-166.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “The Theology of History….” 106-108.

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