Christ brings all newness

2012-10-03 L’Osservatore Romano

In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, announcing the “Year of Faith” to begin on 11 October 2012 — the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council — Benedict XVI characterizes this important initiative as follows: “The Year of Faith... is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For St Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried ... with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17)” (n. 6).

This one section alone contains enough substance for a whole year’s reflection. What I think especially significant is its stress upon “newness”. The radical newness of Christ’s resurrection initiates and enables the Christian’s vocation to newness of life. One is reminded of St Irenaeus’ magnificent summary statement: “Omnem novitatem attulit, semetipsum afferens” — “Christ brought all newness in bringing himself”.

The newness of the resurrection of Christ has as its immediate fruit the transformation of fearful disciples into the new community that is the Church, the body of the risen One. Within this new community, living from a new hope given through Christ’s resurrection, the individual members are being more and more conformed to Christ’s paschal mystery and hence transformed in their living and their thinking. As St Paul exhorts the Christian community in Rome: “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2).

The newness of the resurrection opens a new horizon for thought, not only for individuals’ discernment of God’s will for their lives, but for the discernment of the very nature of reality. This latter discernment is the task of theologians in the Church, not merely those who are formally mandated to engage in this ecclesial vocation, but all the baptized who are called “to give an account [logos] of the hope” that is in us (1 Pet 3:15).

Thus the resurrection of Christ reveals not only our individual and corporate destiny, but the very nature of the universe in which we live. As Joseph Ratzinger writes in Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life: “The Easter Jesus is our certainty that history can be lived in a positive way, and that our finite and feeble rational activity has a meaning”. Theologians speak of the “epistemic priority” of Christ: “who is before all things and in whom all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Therefore, Christians are called not only to religious and moral conversion, but to intellectual conversion as well. All our thinking takes its bearings from Christ’s paschal mystery. Christ, in his paschal mystery, reveals the nature of reality as loving gift of the Father in which we are called to share by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This conviction of Christ’s epistemic priority does not replace the legitimate and autonomous labors of scientists, economists, and artists; but it provides them with their hope-inspiring orientation and their ultimate significance. It reveals that reality is founded upon the creative dispensation of the tri-personal God and that creation’s goal is the achievement of the loving communion of persons. The concluding cantos of Dante’s “Paradiso” give unsurpassed poetic expression to this conviction: the very heart of reality is “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars”.

While not replacing the labors of scientists, economists, and artists, the Christian vision of reality counters any tendency toward a reductive reading of the real. It challenges scientists not to restrict reality to what a merely materialistic worldview encompasses. It challenges economists to incorporate the common good of persons into their analyses. It challenges the citizens of the Western democracies not to capitulate to a one-dimensional secularism.

But a further implication of this epistemic priority of Christ’s paschal mystery is that the work of theology, though not reducible to proclamation and catechesis, is also inseparable from them. Though the distinct gifts and contributions of each ecclesial vocation must be respected, there is a vital and intimate connection among them. For if theology, in the venerable phrase of Saint Anselm, is “faith seeking understanding”, then the content of that faith is the Good News of the risen Christ proclaimed by the Church, celebrated in its liturgy, and expounded in its catechesis.

Separated from proclamation and catechesis, theology risks building upon the shifting sands of the contemporary Zeitgeist. Anchored in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and oriented by the Church’s magisterium, theologians can faithfully fulfill the service of the scribe, instructed in the way of Jesus Christ, “who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Mt 13:52).

Robert P. Imbelli