Archive for the ‘The New Testament’ Category


The Meaning Of The New Covenant 2 – Hans Urs von Balthasar

March 11, 2014
“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”  Genesis 33:4 This has long struck me as one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.  I can’t read it without being moved.  But we all feel the power of it.  When we see ex-friends reconciling, so removing every barrier that they run and embrace and fall on one another’s necks — I love that expression — and weep, the beauty of it gets to us.  Not a negotiated settlement.  No face-saving baloney.  The real thing.  Honest.  Unforced.  Deeply felt.  I think we all perceive true reconciliation with awe.  It is of God.

“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Genesis 33:4 This has long struck me as one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. I can’t read it without being moved. But we all feel the power of it. When we see ex-friends reconciling, so removing every barrier that they run and embrace and fall on one another’s necks — I love that expression — and weep, the beauty of it gets to us. Not a negotiated settlement. No face-saving baloney. The real thing. Honest. Unforced. Deeply felt. I think we all perceive true reconciliation with awe. It is of God.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, is widely considered one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote over 60 works of theology, spirituality and philosophy, including his great trilogy: the 7 volume work The Glory of the Lord, the five volume work Theo-Drama, and the three volume work Theo-Logic. His most famous individual works include Prayer, Heart of the World, Mysterium Paschale and Cosmic Liturgy. “Just as Love Alone Is Credible captures the essence of the seven-volume The Glory of the Lord, so does Engagement with God explain his five-volume Theo-Drama. But in Engagement with God von Balthasar does more: by setting his account of the drama of Christian discipleship against the anti-Christian ideologies of the 1960s von Balthasar brings his theology to bear on the highest cost of discipleship — martyrdom — by seeing the martyr as the mirror of God’s own involvement in the human race through his own martyred Son. One can hardly read a more sober, and yet exhilarating, account of what it means to live committed to God’s own commitment to the world.


Through the Incarnation of the Son, however, a member of this heavenly society becomes a human being. This marks the beginning of human society being fashioned according to the spirit and form of the heavenly society. True, psychological and sociological principles of community living are not thereby excluded, but they are given a final point of reference that lies beyond their somewhat uncertain and precarious doctrines in God himself.

In fact all earthly ordinances concerning personal life and interpersonal relationships have been objectively transcended since God in Christ totally involved himself, for the sake of the whole of humanity, in the sphere of the life of the Trinity. Saying that this in itself is objectively true does not yet mean that men acknowledge the subjective implications of this truth.

For on the one hand, through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14ff.), men will have to be confronted with this objective truth; yet on the other hand, when thus confronted they will have to ratify it in freedom or remain free to reject it out of hand. It is at this point, when we begin to see something of the dramatic nature of the history of our liberation, that the role of the Church becomes apparent.

Taking all things into consideration we see that the Church’s role in the scheme of our salvation can only be a mediatorial yet dynamic one. She reenacts on a higher and universal level the part played by God’s personal representatives among the people of Israel, that is, that of being the representative of God to the people and of the people to God. Under the New Covenant, this “people” is the whole of humanity.

Hence the role of the Church in the world is not to be a kind of alternative society, shut off and enclosed, a community or society preoccupied with its own internal affairs, a spiritual “society of the perfect” that exists side by side with the secular order. The whole justification for her existence lies in her communicating to the rest of mankind the universally valid truths concerning God’s liberating and redeeming work with fundamental openness, which in itself is but the continuation of God’s involvement in Christ for the sake of the world.

For this purpose, the Church only needs such visible structure as is necessary to permit her message and her genuineness to be proclaimed convincingly in the world. The question is, however, in what does this structure consist? It is built principally of men who have solidly affirmed their faith in God’s total involvement in the work of liberating the world and have given it their full assent; in the act of believing, they lay hold of the reality of their liberation and seek to realize this in their own lives. Their faith leads them to submit to incorporation (by baptism) into that society offered by God to the world.

This done, they take part in the mystery of the Eucharist, which mystery is itself but the total involvement of God himself. Here the Father offers to us his Son under the form of his supreme action on our behalf, giving us his flesh and hisblood outpoured for our sustenance. They share, too, in a forgiveness of sins that is constantly renewed by the sacrament of conversion (or penance); they partake of the Holy Spirit, which fills the divine society. There is a ministry in the Church that exists to exercise a stewardship of these mysteries of God’s gift of himself to the faithful.

It is a service rendered to those who serve, a ministry of reconciliation toward those whose task it is to reconcile. It is in fact no more than this, nor should it be accorded any greater importance. It does, however, serve the function (as the Pauline Epistles show) of training people in that kind of obedience demanded by the Church and without which the Church would not be able to proclaim and witness convincingly to the obedience of Jesus to the Father. This obedience which the Church requires is a necessary factor, too, because the Church of necessity has, for the sake of the world, to reflect something of that absolute unity which characterizes the society of the divine Persons, in which nothing is private, where there are no divisions and no rivalries, but where the principle of unity is a love that encompasses and overrides all individuality.

In the Church, therefore, each member is a person insofar as he assumes the unique role to which God by his grace has called him, in order that he may be truly a person, through serving the interests of the community as a whole. St. Paul’s image of the Body and its many members illustrates this principle and has to stand the test of the most difficult situations (cf. Acts 21:17-30) and to hold good in the face of the almost disastrous tensions that arise from time to time between the “stronger” and the “weaker” brethren (see Romans 14-15; 1 Corinthians 8).

The Church, therefore, is Christ’s fellow servant in his task of liberating the world. She shares with God in his work of sharing himself in Christ with the world. Hence the act of sharing must be at the very center of the Church’s life and being. She can only be truly herself insofar as she accepts the fact that she is the means of God’s sharing and imparting himself, and she can only fulfill her true nature in the process of distributing what she herself has been privileged to share in.

St. Paul describes her as the Body of Christ, that Body which is actualized at the very place where Christ shares himself with those who share with him in the sacrificial meal (see 1 Corinthians 10:16ff.) and charges those who receive him to imitate his own disposition and willingness to share and to give (see 2 Corinthians 8-9). St. John draws the most obvious conclusion when he says that Christ “laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

In the Church, therefore, there exists no other difference between the celebration of the sacraments and our everyday existence, save that between the source and its issue. Here, in the dynamic life of the Church and nowhere else, all the mysteries of our faith — the Trinity, the doctrine of the Person of Christ, the doctrines about the Church, the sacraments, the mystery of Christian living — come to be seen as nothing less than God’s imparting of his life-giving love to us; and this love flows through the Church and out into the world.

Since God was made man there is no shorter way of answering the question as to who it is that under the New Covenant is the object of God’s choosing than by stating the whole sequence — Christ, the Church, mankind; and we include under mankind, of course, the whole cosmos. All interpolations into this sequence must be regarded as purely relative or provisional; they are related to the final goal for which God has risked the whole of his involvement, that is, the world as a whole. “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

Indeed, from the Christian point of view, the world is no longer an anonymous collection of individuals; for in proportion as the light of heaven penetrates through Christ and the Church into the darkness of the world, so it visibly gives personality to the whole human community. Each man encountering this light receives a call and a commission; to him is given the task of living for others, and he becomes one of those who have begun to grasp the meaning of communion and sharing.

We are back once more to the parable of the leaven. The dough that is as yet unleavened is a shapeless mass of private existences that, because they are under the dominion of the powers of this world, are pushed together into a collective lump. The leavening promises two things that cannot be seen in isolation: on the one hand, a release from merely private existence in order that men may become fully individual, and on the other hand, a release from collective existence for the sake of a genuine communion and sharing.


Blessed Are the Poor — Anthony Esolen

March 7, 2014
As the great Karl Adam says, "Jesus loves the poor not simply because they are poor but because spiritually they are more capable than the rich of hearkening to the message of the coming kingdom, of hungering and thirsting after justice."

As the great Karl Adam says, “Jesus loves the poor not simply because they are poor but because spiritually they are more capable than the rich of hearkening to the message of the coming kingdom, of hungering and thirsting after justice.”

Jesus, strong in stature, His constitution toughened by years of the hard physical labor of His trade, and by His hale attraction to long walks, mountains, and the wilderness, climbed a hillside so that the crowds of people could hear Him. Among them were men, women, and children, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick, people who knew they were sinners, and people who didn’t. And Jesus, in a voice that must have made the hillside ring, uttered words unlike any that men had heard before: “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God!” (Luke 6:20).

I’d be a liar if I said I know what those words mean. We could spend the rest of our lives, I think, meditating upon this first and most fundamental of the Beatitudes and never come to an end of drinking of its wisdom.

That is, if we want to drink of its wisdom. The noblest of the pagans would have shrunk from it. Aristotle, a practical philosopher if ever there was one, held that to be really happy a man needed some wealth, not so much for comfort as for the pleasure of being generous with it. You can’t be a great benefactor to your city unless you have some means.

What he would have said about the poor widow whom Jesus praised, who gave her small coins to the Temple, and who therefore “cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” (Mark 12:43), I am not sure. He probably would have praised her too — but to call her “blessed,” that might have required a stretch of the imagination. Or more, infinitely more. It might have required the lifting of his human mind and heart to a new reality — as a sapling transplanted into another and brighter world.

But what do those words mean? Jesus was not sent among us to be a social worker, armed with a sheaf of strategies for eliminating poverty from the world. Indeed, He seems to suggest that that will never happen. “The poor always ye have with you” (John 12:8), says He. But that does not mean He is indifferent to the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. He goes out to meet them. He feels deep pity for them. He inveighs against those who abuse them from their positions of prestige and wealth.

It is not hard to see Jesus’ preference for the company of sinners as also a preference for the poor. For who could be poorer, or more miserable, than the tax collector in His parable? The Pharisee strides with insouciance to the foremost reaches of the Temple, where he contemplates the riches that God has showered upon him. He does not know it, but he is essentially falling down in adoration before man’s favorite idol — himself.

“God, I thank thee,” he says, “that I am not as other men are” (Luke 18:11), for instance like the tax collector he noticed as he passed him by. And this Pharisee goes on to mark off, as a man taking inventory of his precious goods, all the righteous deeds he performs, as, for instance, giving to the United Way, and suchlike. Meanwhile the tax collector, “standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Come with me to a prison cell. The most brilliant scholar of his day there sits at his desk, writing. He has been charged by his enemies with treason. It is essentially a political assassination. He is awaiting an unjust death, and, ever since the half-barbarian Goths came to be the overlords in the western empire, executions are horrible and cruel.

Perhaps he knew what sort of death he would die, from having watched others. One account has it thus. His enemies soaked a leather thong in heated vinegar, to stretch it. Then they bound the man hand and foot, and tied the thong around his forehead. The thong would take a day or two to shrink, slowly, agonizingly, resuming its original size, crushing the bones and penetrating the brain.

So the man, Boethius by name, is writing. He pretends in his own person to be moaning the treachery of Fortune, who once blessed him with honor and now has taken everything away. But in the midst of his sorrow he is visited by a figure of surpassing splendor. It is Lady Philosophy. She will lead him back to the threshold of his true dwelling place.

She does not say that the things that men pursue, such as wealth, fame, honor, power, and pleasure, are bad in themselves, but that they are only partial goods and that anyone who seeks them alone or even in combination with one another both gives himself over to the whims of Fortune and misses the true and unchangeable good he really seeks.

This is especially true of the wicked: for instance, those liars and power-grabbers who have conspired against this just man’s life. “Consider how terrible is the weakness of wicked men!” she exclaims. They fail not merely in the quest for some earthly good, but in the quest for the greatest good of all, for the fulfillment of their beings as creatures who are made to love the good and the true. Consider, she says, that if God denies the wicked His mercy, He may allow them to continue in their ways, rich in the things of the world, and utterly destitute. For happiness, says Lady Philosophy, is not something that man can scramble up on his own, in measurable amounts. It combines in itself the goodness of all good things. It can be found only in God. Indeed, it is itself God.

What God gives, no man can take away. We can only refuse the gift. So Boethius, with his whole life snatched from him, awaited his execution filled with riches. He had been reduced to a poor prisoner in a cell. His enemies gloated. Yet just because he had the Lord, he had everything. As Saint Paul says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If the people of the nearby countryside are worthy of trust, Boethius died in a state of grace. They revered him as Saint Severinus, after one of his Roman names. His bones are honored in a tomb in the cathedral at Pavia, in northern Italy, where rest also the bones of Saint Augustine. His bones rest there, but his soul sings in Paradise.

Blessed are the poor, says Jesus, for theirs is the kingdom of God, and I look about my own home and say, “How can this be?” For I have worked hard to provide my family with good things — a comfortable and attractive home, and a cottage far away for vacations in the summer. And I look at the alumni whom my school — a genuinely Catholic school — most pointedly celebrates, and they are not housewives and plumbers and carpenters and janitors and kindergarten teachers, but those who have made a “success” of themselves in the world of business or medicine or, Lord help us, politics. Those are the stories we like to hear. We especially like to hear them about ourselves.

There is the danger. In one sense it does not matter how much we have in our bank accounts. Jesus did not come to preach the evil of personal property. That would be the companion error to believing that our salvation comes from property. “Except ye be converted,” says Jesus, “and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). There is nothing in all the sagas and chronicles of the ancient pagan world that prepares us for such a saying; the closest, perhaps, is the sight of the aged and blind Oedipus, humbled by unspeakable suffering, led by the hand by a young girl, his loyal daughter Antigone. What can Jesus mean by it?

A little child has nothing of his own, but receives everything as a gift. This we can do whether we own a yacht and enjoy sailing it on the high seas, or whether all we can do is tie an old tire to a tree for our children to swing on. Is this what He means by the blessing of poverty? That we heed the word of Saint Paul, and buy, as though we “possessed not” (1 Corinthians 7:30)? Is this the whole of it, that we do not set our hearts on such things, as if we were their masters? Perhaps.

And yet there is the danger. “He hath filled the hungry with good things,” says Mary, dwelling with joy upon the wonderful thing God has done for her, “and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Luke 1:53). The danger is that the things will stuff us full, and we will not be hungry for what really satisfies. The danger is that the things will be heaped so high that we will not see the vast homeland beyond. The danger is that the things will so distract us with their racket that we will not hear the still small voice that fairly broke the heart of the prophet Elijah.

But maybe there is more. Maybe I underestimate the very blessings of poverty. Let us engage in no sentimentality here. A life of poverty is not easy. It strikes fear into the heart of fallen man, as does the approach of the ultimate destitution, the thing we all fear. Says Dante, speaking of the young Saint Francis:

Still a lad,
Against his father he swept off to war
to win his lady love: and such was she,
no one for her unfastens pleasure’s door,
As not for death.

Francis’s father accused the boy of stealing money from the family till, to buy mortar to repair the local churches. Before the bishop and the town elders, in the public square of Assisi, he threatened to disown his son, but before he could do that, Francis disowned him instead, stripping off his clothing and tossing it back to him. That was his wedding embrace of the lady in whose honor he sang, Lady Poverty. Others fear her as they fear death, but, as Dante puts it with almost terrifying power, that Lady

was constant and so fierce
that when his mother Mary stood below,
she alone wept with Christ upon the Cross.

The world tells stories of people who work hard and go from rags to riches. It also tells stories of people who through their own folly or wickedness go from riches to rags. But Christians tell stories of those who through poverty — and often the material poverty we seek to eliminate — reap untold riches. This is not because we scorn the good things of the world, but because we seek what is above. Saint Francis himself, as that poor man of God, would fall in love all the more joyously with the beauty of the earth, even preaching to the birds.

This is hard for us to understand. A secular person might say, “Yes, I see what you mean. You are advocating a simple life, like the one that Thoreau lived when he retreated to Walden Pond. Then he could appreciate the beauties of nature, and not be encumbered by the cares of the world.” No, that is not it at all. Thoreau was animated less by love than by disdain. Sure, he was in a better position to love the natural world while living in a hut by the side of a lake than while living in town. But the joy of Saint Francis is missing.

That is because Thoreau’s self-imposed poverty was a protest against the way his fellows lived. Saint Francis, in his poverty, did not betake himself to the woods to escape the evils of Assisi. He preached in that town he loved, by his way of life. He was so obviously enraptured by his bride, Lady Poverty, that he attracted others to him, and soon there was a community, one whose spirituality would breathe in the art and poetry and song and life of the Christian West for hundreds of years. Thoreau died with a grumble; Francis, with a hymn.

Perhaps it takes a Christian artist who himself knew the pangs of hunger and the embarrassment of debt to help us to understand. The novelist Leon Bloy was a poor man with a family. He wrote fiery satires against the self-satisfied rich in France at the turn of the twentieth century and how they subjected the poor to indignity, squalor, thievery, and contempt. But in his novel The Woman Who Was Poor, we see the noble heroine Clotilde, after she has lost her infant son to disease, and after her beloved husband has laid down his life while saving others from a conflagration, give up everything and live as a beggar in the streets of Paris.

She has known great suffering. Her mother tried to sell her off to prostitution. Her mother’s bedmate was a filthy sot who once tried to rape her, with her mother’s tacit consent. When her child died, an evil and debauched woman neighbor spread the rumor that Clotilde and her husband had smothered him. And yet she has the riches of Jesus. Has she been unhappy?

Her final words are simply these: “There is in the end only one unhappiness: not to have been one of the saints.”

As the great Karl Adam says, “Jesus loves the poor not simply because they are poor but because spiritually they are more capable than the rich of hearkening to the message of the coming kingdom, of hungering and thirsting after justice.” I imagine a palace atop a steep mountain. There is a legend that within that palace is unending and unquenchable joy. Every so often, a strain of music can be heard from it, but it is soon drowned out by the bustle in the plains below. Every so often, a radiance can be seen from its turrets, like the northern lights, but it is soon smothered by the glare of the shops and streetlights below.

In the city of the plains, people bustle. You can read about them in the newspapers. Their stories sell. Their bodies sell, too, and sometimes the buyers won’t have the story without a picture of the body. There is also a vast mart called an exchange, where people, jittery, breathless, hunted, suspicious, buy and sell stocks. Much of the bustle in this city on the plain is devoted to the elaboration of emptiness. You can buy emptiness in bright boxes. You can wear it on your shoulders. You can erect monuments to it. You can consume it, and in more than one way.

Now I imagine a young man at the base of the mountain. He has heard a distant echo of the strains of joy coming from the palace. He sees the steep narrow path that leads to the palace gates. It is called, by the city folk, the Eye of the Needle. They tell terrible stories about people losing everything who venture on that road — prestige, money, power, pleasure, and other objects of ultimate importance. All at once he sees a stranger before him. The stranger looks upon him with love. He says, “Come, let us go up to the altar of God.”

Now, the young man has a camel with him. The camel is heaped up with boxes. One box is full of diplomas, from the University of the World, Mammon Polytechnical, and Self-Lifting High. The young man is proud of them. He plans to use them to do good things. There is another bundle tied up with a rope. In it are pillows and blankets and sheets he has bought from an exchange called Astarte’s Secret. The young man is taking them along, just in case. He isn’t a dissipated fellow, not one to find himself ever feeding pods to swine, but he isn’t a Puritan either. It is important to be prepared — that is what he has learned as a scout.

Then there’s a contraption with iron weights, for making his body handsome and strong, and a keg of beer, for doing the opposite. Medals, mirrors, letters from girls, pictures of himself, memories of victory, all heaped up on the camel, for the great adventure of life. This adventure, for most, means meandering about the plain, looking into the shops, dragging camels along, trying to keep the boxes from falling over, until the play is over.

“Come with me,” says the stranger, smiling. And the youth replies, “I want to — I do. But what do I do with all my things?”

“You will lose nothing true. You may lose much that is untrue. We in the palace do not trade a genuine pleasure for a genuine pleasure. We cast away shadows and give what has substance. You can only gain. Aren’t you hungry for it? Don’t you thirst for it?”

“But what am I to do with my honors from the University of the World? I know I’m not the most important person alive, but I did think I would do something with myself. That was my plan, at least.”

“Anything of truth you have learned there,” replies the stranger, “you will not only retain, but you will find bearing fruit a hundredfold. But the chaff will be blown away. You must forget about honors. Think of your hunger instead. Think of joy.”

“Maybe I can try to climb the pathway with my camel?”

“You may try, but you will fail. The poor beast cannot make it. This is not a path one climbs by being weighty and great. It is a path one climbs by being light and little. Take the boxes off the camel’s back, and then lead him too, if you love him.”

“I don’t know… Can I think about it?”

“That isn’t true, is it? You don’t want to think about it. You want to think about something else instead. Come, isn’t that so? Here, turn that noisebox off for a moment — I have a melody to give you. Or take down that neon light. I have a sunrise to give you.”

“Why,” says the young man, “you are a trickster! You don’t want me to have less. You want me to have even more. You want to give me things. Why should I exchange these things for those things?”

“Because my gifts are true, and you know it. Please now, let’s take these boxes and bundles off the poor camel. May I?”

What shall we do? Shall we let Him unload the stuff? He is waiting to give us all good things, if He can but find the room for them in our hearts. Why, He is waiting to give us Himself, if we would only come to Him as children. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.


What It Means To Believe In Christ – Fr. Romano Guardini

January 31, 2014
And Jesus Wept....Christianity is nothing one can "have"; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God's help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

And Jesus Wept….Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

Another reading selection from The Lord. One of the greatest riffs I have ever read.


Among the instructions that Jesus gives the Twelve before sending them out into the world are the following:

“Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace…. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake, will find it”
(Matthew 10:34 – 39).

Jesus’ message is one of good will. He proclaims the Father’s love and the advent of his kingdom. He calls people to the peace and harmony of life lived in the divine will, yet their first reaction is not union, but division. The more profoundly Christian a man becomes, the deeper the cleft between him and those who refuse to follow Christ — its exact measure proportionate to the depth of that refusal.

The split runs right through the most intimate relationship, for genuine conversion is not a thing of natural disposition or historical development, but the most personal decision an individual can make. The one makes it, the other does not; hence, the possibility of schism between father and son, friend and friend, one member of a household and another.

When it comes to a choice between domestic peace and Jesus, one must value Jesus higher, even higher than the most dearly beloved: father and mother, son and daughter, friend or love. This means cutting into the very core of life, and temptation presses us to preserve human ties and abandon Christ. But Jesus warns us: If you hold “life” fast, sacrificing me for it, you lose your own true life. If you let it go for my sake, you will find yourself in the heart of immeasurable reality.

Naturally this is difficult; it is the cross. And here we brush the heaviest mystery of Christianity, the inseparableness from Calvary. Ever since Christ walked the way of the cross, it stands firmly planted on every Christian’s road, for every follower of Christ has his own personal cross. Nature revolts against it, wishing to “preserve” herself. She tries to go around it, but Jesus has said unequivocally, and his words are fundamental to Christianity: He who hangs on, body and soul, to “life” will lose it; he who surrenders his will to his cross will find it — once and forever in the immortal self that shares in the life of Christ.

On the last journey to Jerusalem, shortly before the Transfiguration, Jesus’ words about the cross are repeated. Then, sharply focused, the new thought:

“For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(Matthew 16:26)

This time the point plunges deeper. The dividing line does not run between one person and another, but between the believer, or one desirous of belief, and everything else! Between me and the world. Between me and myself. The lesson of the cross is the great lesson of self-surrender and self-conquest. Our meditations are approaching the passion of the Lord, so it is time that we turn to Christianity’s profoundest, but also most difficult mystery.

Why did Jesus come? To add a new, higher value to those already existent? To reveal a new truth over and above existing truth, or a nobler nobility, or a new and more just order of society? No, he came to bring home the terrible fact that everything, great and small, noble and mean, the whole with all its parts — from the corporal to the spiritual, from the sexual to the highest creative urge of genius — is intrinsically corrupt.

This does not deny the existence of individual worth. What is good remains good, and high aspirations will always remain high. Nevertheless, human existence in toto has fallen away from God. Christ did not come to renew this part or that, or to disclose greater human possibilities, but to open man’s eyes to what the world and human life as an entity really is; to give him a point of departure from which he can begin all over with his scale of values and with himself. Jesus does not uncover hidden creative powers in man; he refers him to God, center and source of all power.

It is as if humanity were one of those enormous ocean liners that is a world in itself: apparatuses for the most varied purposes; collecting place for all kinds of passengers and crew with responsibilities and accomplishments, passions, tensions, struggles. Suddenly someone appears on board and says: What each of you is doing is important, and you are right to try to perfect your efforts. I can help you, but not by changing this or that on your ship. It is your course that is wrong; you are steering straight for destruction…

Christ does not step into the row of great philosophers with a better philosophy, or of the moralists with a better morality, or of the religious geniuses to conduct man deeper into the mysteries of life. He came to tell us that our whole existence, with all its philosophy and ethics and religion, its economics, art and nature, is leading us away from God and into the shoals. He wants to help us swing the rudder back into the divine direction, and to give us the necessary strength to hold that course.

Any other appreciation of Christ is worthless. If this is not valid, then every man for himself; let him choose whatever guide seems trustworthy, and possibly Goethe or Plato or Buddha is a better leader than what remains of a Jesus Christ whose central purpose and significance have been plucked from him.

Jesus actually is the rescue pilot who puts us back on the right course. It is with this in mind that we must interpret the words about winning the world at the loss of the essential, about losing life, personality, soul, in order to possess them anew and truly. They refer to faith and the imitation of Christ.

Faith means to see and to risk accepting Christ not only as the greatest teacher of truth that ever lived, but as Truth itself (John 16:6). Sacred reality begins with Jesus of Nazareth. If it were possible to annihilate him, the truth he taught would not commit’ to exist in spite of the loss of its noblest apostle, but itself would cease to exist. For he is the Logos, the source of Living Truth. He demands not only that we consent intellectually to the correctness of his proclamation — that would be only a beginning — but that we feel with all our natural instinct for right and wrong, with heart and soul and every cell of our being, its claims upon us.

We must not forget: the whole ship is headed for disaster. It does not help to change from one side of it to the other or to replace this or that instrument. It is the course that must be altered. We must learn to take completely new bearings.

What does it mean, to be? Philosophy goes into the problem deeply, without changing being at all. Religion tells me that I have been created, that I am continuously receiving myself from divine hands, that I am free yet living from God’s strength.

Try to feel your way into this truth, and your whole attitude toward life will change. You will see yourself in an entirely new perspective. What once seemed self-understood becomes questionable. Where once you were indifferent, you become reverent; where self-confident, you learn to know “fear and trembling.” But where formerly you felt abandoned, you will now feel secure, living as a child of the Creator-Father, and the knowledge that this is precisely what you are will alter the very taproot of your being… .

What does it mean to die? Physiology says the blood vessels harden or the organs cease to function. Philosophy speaks of the pathos of finite life condemned to aspire vainly to infinity. Faith defines death as the fruit of sin, and man as peccator (Romans 6:23).

Death’s arm is as long as sin’s. One day for you too its consequences and death’s disintegration will have to be drawn. It will become evident how peccant you are, and consequently moribund. Then all the protective screens so elaborately arranged between you and this fact will fall, and you will have to stand and face your judgment.

But faith also adds, God is love, even though he allows sin to fulfill itself in death, and your Judge is the same as your Savior. If you were to reflect on this, over and over again until its truth was deep in your blood, wouldn’t it make a fundamental difference in your attitude toward life, giving you a confidence the world does not have to give? Wouldn’t it add a new earnestness and meaning to everything you do?

What precisely is this chain of acts and events that runs from our first hour to our last? The one says natural necessity; the other historical consequence; a third, something else. Faith says: It is Providence. The God who made you, saved you, and will one day place you in his light, also directs your life. What happens between birth and death is message, challenge, test, succor–all from his hands. It is not meant to be learned theoretically, but personally experienced and assimilated. Where this is so, aren’t all things necessarily transfigured? What is the resultant attitude but faith?

Religion then! But there are so many, one might object; Christ is just another religious founder.

No; all other religions come from earth. True, God is present in the earth he created, and it is always God whom the various religions honor, but not in the supremacy of his absolute freedom. Earthly religions revere God’s activity, the reflections of his power (more or less fragmentary, distorted) as they encounter it in a world that has turned away from him. They are inspired by the breath of the divine, but they exist apart from him; they are saturated with worldly influences, are formed, interpreted, colored by the historical situation of the moment.

Such a religion does not save. It is itself a piece of “world,” and he who wins the world loses his soul. Christ brings no “religion,” but the message of the living God, who stands in opposition and contradiction to all things, “world religions” included. Faith understands this, for to believe does not mean to participate in one or the other religion, but: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). Men are to accept Christ’s tidings as the norm of their personal lives.

My attitudes toward things to be done may be various. One follows the principle of maximum profit with minimum effort. This is the clever or economical approach. I can also consider a specific task in the light of duty, the fulfillment of which places my life on a spiritual and moral level. Christ teaches neither greater cleverness nor a higher sense of duty; he says: Try to understand everything that comes into your life from the viewpoint of the Father’s will.

If I do, what happens? Then I continue to act in accordance with cleverness and utility, but under the eyes of God. I will also do things that seem foolish to the world, but are clever in eternity. I will continue to try to act ethically, to distinguish clearly between right and wrong and to live in increasing harmony with an increasingly dependable conscience.

All this, however, I will do in the living presence of Christ, which will teach me to see things I never would have noticed alone. I will change my concepts and trouble my conscience — but for its good, stripping it of levity’s self-confidence, of moral pride, and of the intellectual stiffness that results from too much principle-riding. With increasing delicacy of conscience will come a new firmness of purpose and a new energy (simultaneously protective and creative) for the interests of good.

Similarly, my attitude toward my neighbor may be ordered from various points of view: I can consider others’ competition, and attempt to protect my interests from them. I can respect the personality of each. I can see them as co-sharers of destiny, responsible with me for much that is to come, and so on and so forth. Each of these attitudes has its place, but everything is changed once I understand what Christ is saying: You and those near you — through me you have become brothers and sisters, offspring of the same Father. His kingdom is to be realized in your relationship to each other.

We have already spoken of the transformation that takes place when fellow citizens become brothers in Christ, when from the “you and me” of the world springs the Christian “we.” Much could be said of the Christian’s attitude toward destiny and all that it implies in the way of injustice, shock and tragedy: things with which no amount of worldly wisdom, fatalism or philosophy can cope — and preserve its integrity.

This is possible only when some fixed point exists outside the world, and such a point cannot be created by man, but must be accepted from above (as we accept the tidings of divine Providence and his all-directing love). St. Paul words it in his epistle to the Romans (Chapter 8): “Now we know that for those who love God all things work together for good….” This means an ever more complete exchange of natural security, self-confidence and self-righteousness, for confidence in God and his righteousness as it is voiced by Christ and the succession of his apostles.

Until a man makes this transposition he will have no peace. He will realize how the years of his life unroll, and ask himself vainly what remains. He will make moral efforts to improve, only to become either hopelessly perplexed or priggish. He will work, only to discover that nothing he can do stills his heart. He will study, only to progress little beyond vague probabilities — unless his intellectual watchfulness slackens, and he begins to accept possibility for truth or wishes for reality.

He will fight, found, form this and that only to discover that millions have done the same before him and millions will continue to do so after he is gone, without shaping the constantly running sand for more than an instant. He will explore religion, only to founder in the questionableness of all he finds. The world is an entity. Everything in it conditions everything else. Everything is transitory. No single thing helps, because the world as a whole has fallen from grace. One quest alone has an absolute sense: that of the Archimedes point and lever which can lift the world back to God, and these are what Christ came to give.

One more point is important: our Christianity itself must constantly grow. The great revolution of faith is not a lump of reality fallen ready-made from heaven into our laps. It is a constant act of my individual heart and strength. I stand with all I am at the center of my faith, which means that I bring to it also those strands of my being which instinctively pull away from God. It is not as though I, the believer, stand on one side, the fallen world on the other. Actually faith must be realized within the reality of my being, with its full share of worldliness.

Woe to me if I say “I believe” and feel safe in that belief. For then I am already in danger of losing it (see 1 Corinthians 10: 12). Woe to me if I say: “I am a Christian” — possibly with a side-glance at others who in my opinion are not, or at an age that is not, or at a cultural tendency flowing in the opposite direction. Then my so-called Christianity threatens to become nothing but a religious form of self-affirmation.

I “am” not a Christian; I am on the way of becoming one — if God will give me the strength. Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is more sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.


“Who do you say I am?” – Fr. John Behr

October 17, 2013
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of the Coming One (cf. Matthew 11:3; 21:9; 23:39) and accordingly the citizenship of Christians is not on earth but in heaven, from which they await their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philemon 3:20). In like manner the Gospel is not located in a specific text; what came to be recognized as "canonical" Gospels are always described as "The Gospel according to..." The Gospel is not fixed in a particular text, but, as we will see, in an interpretative relationship to the Scriptures -- the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of the Coming One (cf. Matthew 11:3; 21:9; 23:39) and accordingly the citizenship of Christians is not on earth but in heaven, from which they await their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philemon 3:20). In like manner the Gospel is not located in a specific text; what came to be recognized as “canonical” Gospels are always described as “The Gospel according to…” The Gospel is not fixed in a particular text, but, as we will see, in an interpretative relationship to the Scriptures — the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets.

“Who do you say I am?” Before we can even begin to answer Christ’s question, we must consider the background against which this question is raised and the framework within which it can be answered. The first subject inevitably raises issues concerning the historical background, and the delicate subject of the relation between history and faith, while the latter immerses us in the divisive topic of the relation between Scripture and tradition and the complex problem of canon. All these topics were debated in the first couple of centuries, and settled in a manner which thereafter (at least for the period considered in this series) became normative.

Concerning the issues surrounding historicity, much has been written on “the scandal of particularity,” the fact that God revealed himself uniquely through his Son, a first century Jew. Many volumes have also been devoted to describing the social, political, economic, and cultural setting of first century Palestine. In a similar vein, there have been many attempts, especially in the last decades of the twentieth century, to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” through the supposedly objective methods of historical-critical research.

It must be clearly noted, however, that such endeavors, the speculativeness and arbitrariness of which are amply demonstrated by the bewildering variety of “real” Jesuses they fabricate, are neither an answer to Christ’s question nor, consequently, are they of the order of knowledge upon which the Christian Church is based. Christ’s question calls for interpretation, to explain the meaning and significance of this person, his life and works.

To say that Jesus was born of Mary and was crucified under Pontius Pilate is to make an assertion concerning the order of history, about an event, possibly verifiable, possibly not; to say that he is the incarnate Word of God, the crucified and risen Lord and Savior, is an interpretation and explanation of who he is and how he stands in relation to those seeking to respond to him — a confession.

The writings of the New Testament are already such interpretations, written in the context of faith in the one whom God raised from the dead. Their status as interpretations cannot be bypassed in an effort to seek the supposed historical core and then subject it to other interpretative frameworks. The “real Jesus” inscribed in the writings of the New Testament is already interpreted, and to understand him more deeply, we must turn primarily to the symbolic world of Scripture, in and through which Christ is, from the first, understood and explained — revealed.

However, to speak of a collection of writings known as the New Testament presupposes certain developments, raising further difficult issues. Most immediately, why these writings and not others? Although seems probable that the letters of Paul began to be gathered into collections towards the end of the first century, and a fourfold Gospel collection soon thereafter, [H. Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), 58-65; T. C. Skeat, The Oldest Manuscript of the Four Gospels? NTS 43 (1997), 1-34; G. N. Stanton, The Fourfold Gospel, NTS43 (1997), 317-46] the crucial battles lay ahead in the following century, and it is really only by the end of the second century that a recognizable New Testament came into use, and along with it an appeal to apostolic tradition, apostolic succession, and the canon or rule of truth. The importance of these debates cannot be overstated; through them these elements are brought together into one coherent whole. The New Testament has its place within a larger constellation.

If we are to understand the particular contours of this debate and its resolution, we must avoid reading its terms in the manner set by the polemics of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, in which Scripture is opposed to tradition, as two distinct sources of authority.

[In its official pronouncement, the Council of Trent (1545-63) affirmed, somewhat ambiguously, that the truth and rule are contained in written books and unwritten traditions (in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus), Session 4, 8 April 1546; a draft of the decree submitted on 22 March 1564, suggests a greater independence of these two mediums, referring to the truth contained "partly (partim) in written books and partly (partim) in unwritten traditions." Text cited and discussed in Y. M. J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 164-9.]

Separating Scripture and tradition in this way introduces an inevitable quandary: if the locus of authority is fixed solely in Scripture, and “canon” is understood exclusively in the sense of a “list” of authoritative books, then accounting for that list becomes problematic;

R. Pfeiffer points out that the term “canon” was first used to designate “list” by David Ruhnken in 1768, and that his coinage met with worldwide and lasting success, as the term was found to be so convenient: one has the impression that most people who use it believe that this usage is of Greek origin. But the original Greek was never used in this sense, nor would this have been possible. From its frequent use in ethics it has always retained the meaning of rule or model.” (History of Classical Scholarship: From the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age [Oxford: Clarendon, 1968], 207).

Despite this recognition, Pfeiffer himself a few lines later describes the list of biblical books as its “canon,” appealing to passages where it could equally be taken in the sense of “rule” (Origen apud Eusebius HE 6.25.3; Athanasius, On the Decree of Nicaea, 18), cf. G. A. Robbins, Eusebius’ Lexicon of Canonicity, St. Patr. 25, (Leuven: Peeters, 1993), 134-41.

Most of the studies treating the canon of Scripture not that “canon” primarily meant “rule,” yet presuppose that it should mean “list,” and sc devote most attention to cataloguing when, where and by whom, the various writings were accepted as Scripture. For a more considered discussion of the issues concerning canon and Scripture, see, J. Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) and W. J. Abraham, Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

If, on the other hand, Scripture is subsumed under tradition, on the grounds that the Church predates the writings of the New Testament (conveniently forgetting, in a Marcionite fashion, the existence of Scripture — the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets), then again a problem arises from the lack of a criterion or canon, this time for differentiating, as is often done, between “Tradition” and “traditions” — all traditions are venerable, though some more so than others, yet the basis for this distinction is never clarified.

With regard to the establishment by the end of the second century of catholic, orthodox or normative Christianity, the most important question must be: on what basis was this done? Was it a valid development, intrinsic to the proclamation of the Gospel itself, or an arbitrary imposition, dictated by a male, monarchical, power-driven episcopate suppressing all alternative voices by processes of exclusion and demonization, or however else the history might be written?

The picture of an originally pure orthodoxy, manifest in exemplary Christian communities, from which various heresies developed and split off, as it was presented for instance in the book of Acts and, in the fourth century, in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea, has become increasing difficult to maintain, especially since the work of Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. And rightly so: the earliest Christian writings that we have, the letters of Paul, are addressed to churches already falling away from the Gospel which he had delivered to them.

Yet the Gospel was delivered. Debates certainly raged from the beginning about the correct interpretation of this Gospel; it is a mistake to look back to the early Church hoping to find a lost golden age of theological or ecclesiastical purity — whether in the apostolic times as narrated in the book of Acts, or the early Church, as recorded by Eusebius, or the age of the Fathers and Church Councils, or the Empire of Byzantium. Nevertheless, the Gospel was delivered, once for all.

However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of the Coming One (cf. Matthew 11:3; 21:9; 23:39) and accordingly the citizenship of Christians is not on earth but in heaven, from which they await their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philemon 3:20). In like manner the Gospel is not located in a specific text; what came to be recognized as “canonical” Gospels are always described as “The Gospel according to…” The Gospel is not fixed in a particular text, but, as we will see, in an interpretative relationship to the Scriptures — the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets.

Inseparable from the debates about which works were to count as Scripture, was the issue of the correct interpretation of Scripture. Not only was there a commitment to a body of Scripture, but there was also the affirmation that there is a correct reading of this Scripture, or more exactly, that there is a correct canon for reading Scripture, a canon expressing the hypothesis of Scripture itself.

Even if it was expressed in many different ways and its articulation continued to be refined, a process which continues today, nevertheless there was a conviction that there is one right faith; and this conviction that there is one right faith, one right reading of the one Scripture, is intimately tied to the confession that there is one Jesus Christ, the only Son of the one Father, who alone has made known (“exegeted,” John 1:18] the Father.

The assertion that there is such a thing as right faith came to be expressed, by the end of the second century, in terms of the canon (rule) of faith or truth, where canon does not mean an ultimately arbitrary list of articles of belief which must be adhered to, or a list of authoritative books which must be accepted, but is rather a crystallization of the hypothesis of Scripture itself. The canon in this sense is the presupposition for reading Scripture on its own terms — it is the canon of truth, where Scripture is the body of truth.

It is often said that Christianity (along with Judaism and Islam, though these are not dealt with here) is a “religion of the book,” and this is usually taken in a very weak sense, that somehow, somewhere, for whatever reason, Christianity involves a book. But what is established as normative Christianity in the second century takes this in a much stronger sense: God acts through His Word, then that Word needs to be heard, to be read, to be understood — the relationship with God is, in a broad sense, literary. As such, it requires the full engagement of all the intellective faculties understand and accomplish, or incarnate, God’s Word.

It was no accident, as Frances Young observes, that what came to be orthodox or normative Christianity was “committed to a text-based version of revealed truth.” This Christianity, one might say, is an interpretative text-based religion.

She further points out, concerning the question of historicity touched on earlier, that it would be anachronistic to suppose that in antiquity God’s revelation was thought of as located in historical events behind the text, events to which, it is claimed, we can have access by reconstructing the from the text, treating the texts as mere historical documents which provide raw historical data, subject to our own analysis, rather than in the interpreted events as presented in Scripture, where the interpretation is already given through the medium of Scripture [Frances Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge: bridge University Press, 1997), 167].

 What is recognized, by the end of the second century as normative Christianity is committed to understanding Christ by engaging with Scripture on the basis of the canon of truth and in the context of tradition.

But if this is the basis for what is established as normative Christianity by the end of the second century, it is no less the very dynamic of the Gospel itself. One of the earliest formulae for proclaiming the gospel is that Christ was crucified and raised “according to the Scriptures”:

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
(1 Corinthians 15: 3-4)

The Gospel which Paul delivered (“traditioned”) is from the first according to the Scriptures.” Clearly the Scriptures to which Paul is referring here are not the four Gospels, but the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. The importance of this written reference, repeated twice, is such that the phrase is preserved in later Creeds; Christians who use the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed still confess that Christ died and rose according to the (same) Scriptures.

The point of concern in this basic Christian confession is not the historicity of the events behind their reports, but that the reports are continuous with, in accordance with, Scripture; it is a textual, or more accurately an “inter-textual” or interpretative confession. And this scriptural texture of the Gospel is, as we will see, the basis of both canon and tradition as articulated by what emerges as normative Christianity. If “orthodoxy” is indeed later than “heresy,” as Bauer claimed and as is commonly assumed, it is nevertheless based on nothing other than Gospel as it was delivered at the beginning.


Paul And The “Intermediate State” Between Death and Resurrection – Benedict XVI

April 19, 2013
For Paul, life in this world is "Christ," but death is gain, since in the "dissolution" of all that is earthly, death means "being with Christ." An inner freedom springs from this knowledge, a fearless openness in death's regard and also an uncomplaining -- no, more -- a joyful readiness for further service. Raphael’s Paul Preaching in Athens, ca 1515 pictured above.

For Paul, life in this world is “Christ,” but death is gain, since in the “dissolution” of all that is earthly, death means “being with Christ.” An inner freedom springs from this knowledge, a fearless openness in death’s regard and also an uncomplaining — no, more — a joyful readiness for further service. Raphael’s Paul Preaching in Athens, ca 1515 pictured above.

Taken from his 1988 classic, Eschatology, which remains a leading text on the “last things” — heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul.


Let us move on to the Pauline writings. It has become customary to distinguish two phases in the development of Paul’s eschatological thought: an early phase, in which he expects to experience the resurrection and the parousia personally, and a later phase, in which such expectations are gradually eliminated while the question of the intermediate state becomes all the more urgent and meaningful. There is much to be said in favor of such an evolution in Paul’s thinking.

However, Hoffmann has shown that Paul’s ideas about the intermediate state and the resurrection were not affected by it, but remained the same throughout. Because the image of sleep which appears in these texts crops up time and again from Luther to the Dutch Catechism, Hoff man’s analysis of the semantic field of the language of sleep is especially important. Sleep was a euphemism for dying, and for being dead.

Found in both the Jewish and the Hellenistic sphere, it was capacious enough a metaphor to find room for a variety of somewhat different contents. It comprised the idea of unconsciousness, as well as the more positive notion of the peace enjoyed by the just as distinct from sinners. So far as Paul is concerned, Hoffmann shows that his use of the word is uncommitted as between those various contents. So no inferences can be drawn about his views of the condition of the dead.

In his correspondence with the church at Thessalonica, the only eschatological issue Paul addresses is that of the future resurrection. In writing to Philippi, on the other hand, Paul, faced with imminent danger of death, looks steadily at his own destiny and at what will follow death. Yet Philippians is familiar with the same mode of thinking as that in First Thessalonians and, most importantly, both letters argue from the same foundational premise, namely, from Christ, who guarantees the life of those who belong to him.

A careful examination of the formula “the dead in Christ,” found in First Thessalonians 4, 16, leads Hoffman to the following judgment:

To me it seems by no means improbable that the idea of communion with Christ as the determining factor in the death of Christians, found in Philippians 1, 23, is already adumbrated here. Neither in Philippians nor in First Thessalonians are resurrection and intermediate state mutually exclusive. Judaism had bound both firmly together.”

 It seems to me that the profound link between these two Pauline letters in this regard is even clearer in First Thessalonians 5, 10 where the apostle refers to Christ as he who died for us so that “whether we wake or sleep we might live with him.” Evidently, then, it is not “waking” or “sleeping,” earthly “life” or “death” which make the decisive difference but life in communion with Christ or in separation from him.

The hardest nut to crack among the texts debated in this context is 2 Corinthians 5: 1-10:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

None of the numerous interpretations can be called satisfactory in every respect. However, although a number of detailed points will probably always remain controversial, the meticulous textual analysis found in both Hoffmann’s work” and in Bultmann’s commentary on this Letter, agreeing as they do in all essentials, seems to offer a reliable guide to the general thrust of the text. These writers hold that Paul is not offering an express judgment of either a positive or a negative kind about the intermediate state. Rather is he emphasizing the Christian hope for salvation as such, a hope which lies in the Lord and has its focus in our own resurrection?

The foil to Paul’s remarks must be located in the “afflictions” suffered by the disciples and listed in chapter 4 of the Letter. What this means is that the text has nothing of direct relevance to contribute to our discussion. However, the scholars we are following also arrive at a second conclusion which is of indirect importance for us. Despite what a number of exegetes allege, Paul does not say that he is afraid of dying — afraid dying, that is, before the Parousia. It is true that he rejects the Gnostic idea that “nakedness” of soul is a salvific good, pushing it aside without a word of discussion as inhuman and untrue. But fear of the intermediate state as a time of nakedness is notable by its absence. As Bultmann puts it:

Tharrein means we face death with confidence, and eudokomen mallon that we even welcome it! Nothing better could happen, us! … The intrepid zeal to serve the Lord not only knows more fear of death; there is even a touch of longing for death.”

How can such an attitude be explained without invoking Paul’s certitude, expressed in Philippians 1, 23, that even now, to die means to “be with Christ.” A profound isomorphism unites Second Corinthians 5, 6–10 to Philippians 1, 21-26, something especially clear if one concentrates in particular on v. 8 of the Corinthian text and v. 21 of the Philippian. In both cases, the truly desirable thing is being at home with the Lord: already, now, as soon as possible.

Yet in both cases, to speak in the accents of Bultmann, it is also clear that faith banishes not just fear of death, but its opposite, the growing yearning for death, as well. For faith can give even to the burden of “wasting away … daily” the radiance that belongs to being allowed to “please him.”

What makes all these texts, but notably Second Corinthians, so opaque from our viewpoint today is the fact that Paul makes no attempt to develop an anthropology which might clarify this hope in its diverse stages but simply argues from the side of references to Christ. It is Christ who is life: both now and at any point in the future. In the presence of such a certainty, the anthropological “substrate” of Paul’s thinking lies necessarily outside his focus of attention, in shadow. To Paul this must have been unproblematic, since he shared the common presuppositions of his fellow Jews. His task was simply that of formulating the novel element, the reality of Christ and relationship with him, in all its dramatic importance.

In consequence of these reflections, we can afford to be brief in dealing with Philippians 1, 23. For Paul, life in this world is “Christ,” but death is gain, since in the “dissolution” of all that is earthly, death means “being with Christ.” An inner freedom springs from this knowledge, a fearless openness in death’s regard and also an uncomplaining — no, more — a joyful readiness for further service.

In an earlier generation of scholars, it was believed that this text was inexplicable save by the intrusion of “Hellenisation” into the apostle’s thought processes. Today we understand that there is no break whatsoever vis-a-vis Paul’s earlier affirmations.

What he says in Philippians 1 he could already have proclaimed in First Thessalonians, had he seen an opportunity for doing so.’

What is happening before our very eyes is not that Hebrew “monism” is yielding to Greek “dualism,” but that a preexistent Jewish heritage is receiving its proper Christological center. The transformation went so far that it already reached the idea which John would express so graphically: “I am the resurrection and the life.”


The “Intermediate State” Between Death and Resurrection – Benedict XVI

April 18, 2013
The disciple who is to become the type of all faithful discipleship rests on the bosom of Jesus. The Christian, in his faith and love, finds shelter on the breast of Jesus and so, in the end, on the breast of the Father. "I am the resurrection": what these words mean emerges here from a new angle.

The disciple who is to become the type of all faithful discipleship rests on the bosom of Jesus. The Christian, in his faith and love, finds shelter on the breast of Jesus and so, in the end, on the breast of the Father. “I am the resurrection”: what these words mean emerges here from a new angle.

Taken from his 1988 classic, Eschatology, which remains a leading text on the “last things” — heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul.


If the “Last Day” is not to be identified with the moment of individual death but is accepted as what it really is, the shared ending of all history, then the question naturally arises as to what happens “in-between.” In Catholic theology, as that received its systematic form in the high Middle Ages, this question received its answer in terms of the immortality of the soul.

To Luther, such a solution was unacceptable. For him it was a result of the infiltration of faith by philosophy. Yet his own enquiry into the matter produced an ambiguous report. In great majority, the relevant texts of Luther take up the biblical term for death, “sleep,” seeing in it a description of the content of the intermediate state. The soul sleeps in the peace of Christ. It is awakened, along with the body, on the last day.

Elsewhere one finds Luther in a different state of mind, for instance in his comments on the story of Lazarus. There he remarks that the distinction between body and soul whereby hitherto people had tried to explain Lazarus’ life “in the bosom of Abraham” was ein Dreck, “a load of rubbish.” As he explains: “We must say, totus Abraham, the whole man, is to live….”

The impression one takes away from this is that Luther’s concern was not so much with the denial of the life of the dead, but with an attack on the body-soul distinction. Luther does not succeed in replacing that distinction by any clear or even recognizable new conception. In our survey of the status quaestionis, we discovered that recent theology rules out an “intermediate state.” By doing so, it gives systematic expression to a point of view first developed by Luther.

1.  Early Judaism
What does the Bible have to say? In the light of our investigation into the ideas of the New Testament about the resurrection we can already make one fairly general statement. To posit an interruption of life between death and the end of the world would not be in accord with Scripture. In fact, the texts permit a much more precise set of assertions than this, as the exemplary work of P. Hoffmann in particular has shown in careful detail.

The first point to notice is that both the primitive community and St. Paul belonged with the Jewish tradition of their time, just as had Jesus himself. Naturally, they situated themselves vis-a-vis the internal debate within that tradition by reference to the fundamental criterion found in Jesus’ own image of God. This produced in time a gradual transformation of the preexisting tradition, by way of its thorough-going assimilation to the demands of Christology. Our first task, therefore, is to get acquainted with the data of intertestamental Judaism — a complicated affair for which I must rely on Hoffmann’s study.

Let us look at some characteristic documents. The book of Enoch in its Ethiopian recension, datable to c. 150 B.C., offers in its twenty-second chapter an account of the abode of the spirits or souls of the departed. Here the ancient idea of Sheol, earlier taken as the realm of shadow-life, receives more articulated and differentiated description. Its “space” is characterized in greater detail. The world in which the dead are kept until the final judgment is no longer located simply in the earth’s interior, but, more specifically, in the West, the land of the setting sun, in a mountain where it occupies four different regions (pictured as caves). The just and the unjust are now separated.

The unjust await the judgment in darkness whereas the just, among whom the martyrs occupy a special position, dwell in light, being assembled around a life-giving spring of water. We already get a glimpse of how such “early Jewish” notions lived on in unbroken fashion in the early Church. The memento of the departed in the Roman Canon (now the “First Eucharistic Prayer”) prays that God may grant to those who have died marked with the sign of faith and now “sleep the sleep of peace” a place of light, “fresh water” (refrigerium) and repose.

The prayer thus identifies the three conditions which inhabitants of the Mediterranean world consider the proper expression of all good living. Patently, the idea coincides in all respects with the destiny of the just as described in Enoch.

A further stage of development can be observed in the Fourth Book of Ezra, written somewhere around the year 100 A.D. Here too the dead dwell in various “chambers,” their “souls” the bearers of a continuing life. As in Enoch, the just have already entered upon their reward. But whereas the author of Enoch defers the start of the punishment of sinners until the final judgment, in Ezra the pains of the Godless begin in the intermediate state, with the result that at a number of points their position seems to be that of a definitive Hell.

In Rabbinic Judaism, the dividing line between two kinds of human destiny is even more consistently observed. From the moment of judgment, which follows immediately upon death, two paths open up. One leads into the paradise garden of Eden, conceived either as lying in the East or as preserved in heaven. The other goes to the alley of Gehenna, the place of damnation.

But, besides the idea of paradise, the destiny of the just is represented by other images and motifs as well. Thus we hear of the “treasury of souls,” of waiting “beneath the throne of God,” and of the just — and especially martyrs — being received into Abraham’s bosom. Here again the continuity between Jewish and early Christian conceptions is striking. The idea of paradise, the image of the bosom of Abraham;’ the thought of the tarrying of souls beneath the throne of God: all these are present in the New Testament tradition.

But before we turn to the New Testament itself, something should be said about the writings bequeathed to us from Qumran. So long as the community represented under this name, the Essenes, were known only from Josephus, scholars were obliged to regard them as belonging to the Hellenizing strand within early Judaism, at any rate where our question in this present section was concerned. Josephus had summed up their views in the following words:

For their doctrine is this: that bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue forever, and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticements but that when they are set free from the bands of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward.

But with the discovery of the original Qumran manuscripts, our image of the Covenanters has necessarily undergone revision. As K. Schubert, in his study of the Dead Sea community, commented on the text just cited:

In all probability, this description is nothing more than a concession by Josephus to his Greek readership…. The Essenes were not a Hellenistic-syncretistic group, but a Jewish apocalyptic movement.

However, we are dealing here with ideas of the afterlife conceived in markedly material terms, so much so that this same writer can say that the Essenes of Qumran “believed in a continuation of bodiliness, even though they accepted the passing-away of their bodies in the first instance. To this extent, Josephus’ description is perhaps not too far removed from the truth. He too ascribes to the sect a materialist understanding of the soul of the kind common in Stoic philosophy.

This shows how complex in this period the reciprocal interpenetration of the Hellenistic and Jewish worlds could be. The much favored dichotomy between “Greek” and “Hebrew” simply does not stand up to historical examination. The discussion of the Qumran texts also indicates that the mere maintaining of strictly material notions about the life to come does not in itself guarantee fidelity to the spiritual inheritance of the Old Testament. The heart of that option which entered history in Abraham’s faith cannot be grasped without finer differentiation than this. In this perspective, a number of contemporary contributions seem to belong to a continuing “Essene” tradition, in that the issue of materiality has overshadowed every other consideration.

2.  The New Testament
It should be clear by now that the New Testament belongs to that Jewish world whose fundamental contours have been sketched in the preceding section. As a general methodological assumption, it is legitimate to suppose that Jesus and the earliest Church shared Israel’s faith in its (then) contemporary form. The acceptance of Jesus’ awareness of his own mission simply gave to this faith a new center, a nucleus by whose power the individual elements of the tradition were step by step transformed: first and foremost, the concept of God, but then following it, and in a graduated order of urgency, all the rest.

The Synoptic tradition preserved two sayings of Jesus the topic of the “intermediate state.” These are Luke 16:19-31 and Luke 23, 43, and they were briefly touched above. So far as the first, the story of Lazarus, is concerned, we may admit that the parable’s doctrinal content lies its moral, a warning against the dangers of wealth, rather than in the descriptions of Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and Dives in Hell.

And yet, manifestly, the teller of the parable does regard these evocations of the afterlife as appropriate images of the real future of man. In this, the text clearly testifies to the fact that the earliest Christianity shared in the faith of contemporary Judaism about the beyond. So much we can say without even entering into the (quite independent) question of whether in the parable we are overhearing the ipsissima vox of Jesus himself.

Something along the same lines must be said about the second text, the dialogue of the Crucified with the good thief. Here too the Jewish background is palpable. Paradise is the place where the Messiah, concealed, awaits his hour, and whither he will return. But it is in this selfsame text that we begin to see the Christian transformation of the inherited Jewish tradition at work. That destiny reserved by Jewish tradition to the martyrs and the privileged “righteous ones” is now promised by the Condemned Man on the Cross to a fellow condemnee.

He possesses the authority to open wide the doors of paradise to the lost. His word is the key which unlocks them. And so the phrase “with me” takes on a transformative significance. It means that paradise is no longer seen as a place standing in permanent readiness for occupation and which happens to contain the Messiah along with a lot of other people. Instead, paradise opens in Jesus. It depends on his person. Joachim Jeremias was right, therefore, to find a connection between the prayer of the good thief and the petition of the dying Stephen: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

With impressive unanimity, the New Testament presents the communion with Christ after death as the specifically Christian view of the inter-mediate state.

Here is the dawning realization that Jesus himself is paradise, light, fresh water, the secure peace toward which human longing and hope are directed. Perhaps we may remind ourselves in this connection of the new use of the image of “bosom” which we find in John’s Gospel. Jesus does not come from the bosom of Abraham, but from that of the Father himself.” The disciple who is to become the type of all faithful discipleship rests on the bosom of Jesus. The Christian, in his faith and love, finds shelter on the breast of Jesus and so, in the end, on the breast of the Father. “I am the resurrection”: what these words mean emerges here from a new angle.


The New Testament’s Teaching On Resurrection And Immortality – Benedict XVI

April 17, 2013
Faith in the resurrection is a central expression of the Christological confession of God. It follows, indeed, from the concept of God. Its emphasis is placed not on a particular anthropology, whether anti-Platonic or Platonic, but on a theology. This is why we may reasonably expect it to have the capacity to make a variety of anthropologies its own and find appropriate expression by means of them. Picture is the Basilica of San Francesco. The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor -- commonly known as the Franciscan Order -- in Assisi, Italy, the city where St. Francis was born and died. A view of its Bacci Chapel, with fresco cycle Legend of the True Cross by our favorite Piero della Francesca

Faith in the resurrection is a central expression of the Christological confession of God. It follows, indeed, from the concept of God. Its emphasis is placed not on a particular anthropology, whether anti-Platonic or Platonic, but on a theology. This is why we may reasonably expect it to have the capacity to make a variety of anthropologies its own and find appropriate expression by means of them. Picture is the Basilica of San Francesco. The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor — commonly known as the Franciscan Order — in Assisi, Italy, the city where St. Francis was born and died. A view of its Bacci Chapel, with fresco cycle Legend of the True Cross by our favorite Piero della Francesca

Taken from his 1988 book Eschatology, which remains a leading text on the “last things” — heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul.


The Resurrection from the Dead
In our reflections on the theology of death we have already considered the approach of Old Testament faith to the idea of resurrection. So we can begin here with the witness of the New Testament. The doctrine of the resurrection had not been generally accepted in intertestamental Judaism.

If we are looking for an explanation of why it became the fundamental confession of Christians we shall find it easily enough in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection as experienced and communicated by the witnesses. The risen Lord became, so to speak, the canon within the canon: the criterion in whose light tradition must be read. In the illumination which he brought, the internal struggles of the Old Testament were read as a single movement towards the One who suffered, was crucified and rose again. The travail of Old Testament faith became itself a testimony to the resurrection.

This new fact, which brought about the passage from the Old Testament to the New, was prepared for by the words of Jesus which interpreted it before it took place. Only because its intelligibility was prepared beforehand would the resurrection of Jesus gain any historical significance at all. Mere facts without words, without meaning, fall into nothingness as fully as do mere words to which no reality corresponds.

To this extent we can say with complete certainty that the origin of the Easter proclamation is unthinkable without some corresponding announcement by Jesus himself. In this context, the crucial text is Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees about the resurrection as given in the gospel according to Mark.

In his debate with the Sadducees who argued in fundamentalistic fashion that only the Pentateuch might be acknowledged as Scripture, and took it as the exclusive rule of faith, Sola scriptura, Jesus is obliged to prove his thesis on the basis of the books of Moses. He does so in a way which is both exciting and wonderfully simple.

He points to the Mosaic concept of God, or more precisely to the divine self-presentation in the burning bush as reported by Moses: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” That means: those who have been called by God are themselves part of the concept of God. One would turn God into a God of the dead and thus stand the Old Testament concept of God on its head if one declared that those who belong to him who is Life are themselves dead.

This text shows that, in principle, Jesus adopted the Pharisaic over against the Sadduccean, variety of Jewish teaching which included, then, the confession of the resurrection. However, there is also something new in Jesus’ presentation. The resurrection moves into a central position in the expression of faith. It is no longer one tenet of faith among many others, but rather is identified with the concept of God itself.

Resurrection faith is contained in faith in God. The massive simplicity of Israel’s early faith is not obscured by the addition of other obligatory items but is deepened by a more acute seeing. Faith remains simple. It is simply faith in God. Yet it becomes both purer and richer by being thus deepened. All that business of demythologization is taken care of from the outset. Cosmological, anthropological, speculative, psychological and chronological aspects of religion: all these are set aside. What is affirmed is that God himself, and the communion he offers, are life. To belong to him, to be called him is to be rooted in life indestructible.

The nascent Church had the task of rethinking the earlier Pharisaic tradition, as applied to the words and actions of Jesus, in the light of the new fact of the Lord’s resurrection. On the basis of the original insights, this process would flow on in the stream of the Church’s faith through all succeeding generations. Within the limits of this book it would be impossible to catalogue every relevant text. We shall consider simply the two main witnesseses within the New Testament corpus, namely Paul and and John. In what follows we shall be looking at some characteristic texts in which the further development of the doctrine of the resurrection is already indicated.

Two Pauline texts especially important for our enquiry are Romans 6:1-14  and First Corinthians 15.  In the letter to the Romans, baptism is interpreted as being engrafted onto the death of Christ. By baptism we enter on a common destiny with that of Jesus and so with the death which was his fate. But that death is ordered intrinsically to the resurrection. Of necessity, then, suffering and dying with Christ means at the same time a participation in the hope of the resurrection. One permits oneself to be inserted into the passion of Christ since that is the place at which resurrection breaks forth.

The theological concept of resurrection which we discovered in Mark 12 suddenly becomes quite concrete. It becomes, in fact, Theo-Christological in a suitable correspondence with the Christological extension of the concept of God which had taken place in the period between the historical ministry and Paul’s calling to the apostolate. Communion with God, which is the native place of life indestructible, finds its concrete form in sharing in the body of Christ. Through the sacramental dimension of this idea, the Church’s Liturgy and the Church herself as the bearer of the Liturgy become part of the same doctrine.

Theo-Christology also possesses an ecclesiological aspect. In comparison with the simple grandeur of the words of Jesus things may seem to have become rather complicated. It is more correct to say that they have become, rather, more concrete. What is now described in more detail is how the belonging to God that Jesus spoke of actually takes place. The fundamental structure of the doctrine is not impaired but remains fully intact. Faith in the resurrection is not part of some speculation in cosmology or the theology of history but is bound up with a person, with God in Christ. Thus the theologizing of resurrection faith is also its personalization.

In the other Pauline text, First Corinthians 15, we find the apostle engaged in controversy with spiritualizing re-interpretations of faith in the resurrection. In such re-interpretation, resurrection as a future bodily event touching both the cosmos and our own destiny is called into serious question. What precisely was being put in its place the text hardly permits us to say. But some light is thrown thereon by Second Timothy 2:18 where the author mentions a view of the Gospel for which “the resurrection has already happened.” Here the sacramental foretaste of the resurrection hope has been misconceived. The resurrection event is robbed of its futurist character, and identified with the event of becoming or being a Christian.

Resurrection thus undergoes a “mystical” or “existential” reduction. It is probably ideas of this kind which lie behind the Corinthian denial of the resurrection as well. In opposing them, the apostle has to emphasize that the resurrection is not simply a mystical or existential assurance to the Christian in the present. In the last analysis, this would mean nothing: your faith would be vain. Rather is the resurrection a pledge to the future of man and the cosmos, and in this sense a pledge to space, time and matter. History and cosmos are not realities alongside spirit, running on into a meaningless eternity or sinking down into an equally meaningless nothingness.

In the resurrection, God proves himself to be the God also of the cosmos and of history. To this extent, the temporal and cosmic elements in the Jewish belief in the resurrection take their places within Christian confession. Yet they are strictly related to the new theological and Christological structure, and in this way the inner simplicity of that structure remains untouched. The point is still the same. If the dead do not rise, then Christ has not arisen. The resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead are not two discrete realities but one single reality which in the end is simply the verification of faith in God before the eyes of history.

We should look as well at two monuments to Johannine theology: John 6 and John 11. The story of Lazarus in John 11 leads up to the affirmation, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The Theo-Christological conception of the resurrection met with in Paul finds here its purest and most consistent form.

The evangelist has found his way back to the utter simplicity of that vision in Mark 12. He has translated its theology into Christology in a systematic fashion. “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” The bond with Jesus is, even now, resurrection. Where there is communion with him, the boundary of death is overshot here and now. It is in this perspective that we must understand the Discourse on the Eucharist

In John 6, feeding on Jesus’ word and on his flesh, that is, receiving him by both faith and sacrament, is described as bring nourished with the bread of immortality. The resurrection does not appear as a distant apocalyptic event but as an occurrence which takes place in the immediate present.

Whenever someone enters into the ‘I’ of Christ, he has entered straight away into the space of unconditional life. The evangelist does not raise the question of an intermediate state between death and resurrection, a rupture in life, precisely because Jesus is himself the resurrection.

Faith, which is the contact between Jesus and myself, vouchsafes here and now the crossing of death’s frontier. the entire Old Testament inheritance is thus presented in the new mode of Christological transformation. In the Old Testament, it had become clear that death is the absence of communication in the midst of life. Similarly, it had become evident that love is a promise of life. But now it becomes manifest that a love stronger than death actually exists. The borderline between Sheol and life runs through our very midst, and those who are in Christ are situated on the side of life, and that everlastingly.

Bultmann took this Johannine theology to be the perfect expression of authentic Christianity. As we know, this means for him that resurrection is to be interpreted exclusively and without remainder in an “existential” sense. He is obliged to treat St. John’s references to the Last Day” as the interpolations of a later ecclesiastical redactor, whose effect is to drag down the lofty insights of the evangelist to the crude level of the Church populace.

Yet in reality, when the work of the evangelist is thus snapped in two fragments, not even the aspect which Bultmann favors can survive. If the passage into the Christological sphere be not an entry into that unconditional life that abides even beyond earthly dying, then it is not a real passover at all. It is nothing more than a gyration in the inescapable futility of a private existence whose fundamental nothingness is not overcome but rather reconfirmed.

Just one more comment on the biblical data as a whole will be in order here. For the New Testament, the resurrection is a positive event, a message full of hope. By contras we know from the Old Testament, with its phenomenological analysis of “life” and “death,” that when human existence issues in opposition to God, in the nothingness of spiritual shipwreck, it cannot itself be called “life.”

On the contrary, such a fate is really the definitive presence of “death.” Even for resurrection faith this possibility-which of course must not be confused with the sheer annihilation of the human existent — still remains open. We will have to look at it in greater detail somewhat later.

Meanwhile, let us try to formulate a conclusion. Faith in the resurrection is a central expression of the Christological confession of God. It follows, indeed, from the concept of God. Its emphasis is placed not on a particular anthropology, whether anti-Platonic or Platonic, but on a theology. This is why we may reasonably expect it to have the capacity to make a variety of anthropologies its own and find appropriate expression by means of them.

But at the same , and equally, we must expect that this theology will confront all anthropologies with its own critical measuring rod. From its thought of God it draws forth a number of affirmations about man. On the one hand, the new life already begun and will nevermore be snuffed out. On the other hand, that vita nuova is ordered to the transformation of all life, to a future wholeness for man and for the world.


The Transfiguration – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 1, 2013
The Transfiguration is the summer lightning of the coming Resurrection. Also of our own resurrection, for we too are to partake of that transfigured life. To be saved means to share in the life of Christ. We too shall rise again, and our bodies will be transformed by the spirit, which itself is transformed by God. In us mortals blissful immortality will once awaken; read the magnificent fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians.

The Transfiguration is the summer lightning of the coming Resurrection. Also of our own resurrection, for we too are to partake of that transfigured life. To be saved means to share in the life of Christ. We too shall rise again, and our bodies will be transformed by the spirit, which itself is transformed by God. In us mortals blissful immortality will once awaken; read the magnificent fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians.

The words with which Jesus informs his disciple more and more pressingly that he will have to suffer have something special about them. This is evident already earlier, when his enemies demand the great Messianic sign as proof of his identity. He retorts that he will give this unbelieving generation no sign other than that of the prophet Jonas. And there follows the mysterious hint: “For even as Jonas was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). And in three of the formal proclamations of his passion made on the final journey to Jerusalem he says that he will suffer and die and rise again

When Luke says that the apostles did not understand, that his meaning was hidden from them, he means that for them the idea of a dying Messiah was simply inconceivable; yet even less conceivable must have been the idea of his Resurrection. Clarity came only with Easter:

“And it carne to pass, while they were wondering what to make of this, that, behold, two men stood by them in raiment. And when the women were struck with fear and bowed their faces to the ground, they said to them, `Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. I remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in Galilee, saying Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men crucified, and on the third day rise.”
(Luke 24:5-8).

From words, as from the whole life of our Lord, one thing is evident: for Jesus there was no such thing as death alone. He accepted his death, spoke of it with increasing incisiveness, but always inseparably bound to to resurrection.

Did Jesus live our human existence? Certainly. Did he die our death? Most assuredly; our very salvation depends upon his being like us in all things, sin excepted (Hebrews 4:15). Yet there is something behind his living and dying that is more than life and death in the nearest meaning of the words. Something for which we really should have another name, unless we limit the word “life” to the special sense it has in John, inventing a new word, a pale reflection of this, for all other purposes. An illimitable abundance and holy invulnerability in Jesus’ person made it possible for him to be entirely one of us yet different from us all; not only to live our existence, but to transmute it, plucking the “sting” from both life and death (1 Corinthians: 15:56).

What a strange phenomenon this thing called life! It is the a priori of everything, foundation of existence which, when threatened, responds with that unqualified reaction known as self-defense, which has its own laws. It is a miracle so precious that at times the bliss of it is overwhelming. Life enjoys, abstains from, suffers, struggles, creates. It enfolds and permeates things, joins with other life resulting not in a mere sum, but in new and manifold vitality.

Foremost and fundamental, it is and remains an inexplicable enigma. For is it not strange that in order to possess one thing we must relinquish another? That in order to do anything of genuine value, we focus our attention on it and away from all else? That when we wish to do justice to one person we do injustice to all others, if only by not  likewise accepting them into our range of heart, simply because there is not room enough for everyone? That when we experience any powerful sensation, then only in ignorance of what it is, the instant we try to understand it, the current is cut.

Wakefulness is wonderful but tiring, and we long to lose ourselves in sleep. Sleep is pleasant, but how terrible to sleep away half our lives! Life is unity. It demands containment of things; demands that we preserve our entity in the superabundance around us, and yet that we throw the fullness of that entity into our slightest act.

In all directions runs the cracks. Everywhere we look we are faced with an either-or, this-or-that. And woe to us if we do not choose, for from the clearcut choice of the one or the other, depends the decency of existence. The moment we attempt to grab everything, we have nothing properly. If we try to do justice to everyone, we are just to no one, only contemptible. As soon as we reach out to embrace the whole, our individuality dissolves into nothing.

Thus we are forced to make clear decisions, and by so doing — woe again! — to cut into our existence. Really, life has something impossible about it! It is forced to desire what it can never have. It is as though from the very start some fundamental mistake had been made, as evinced by everything we do. And then the dreadful transitoriness of it all. Is it possible things exist only through self-destruction? Doesn’t to live mean to pass over? The more intensively we live, the swifter the passing. Doesn’t death begin already in life?

With desperate truth a modern biologist has defined life as the movement towards death. Yet what a monstrosity to define life only as part of death! Is death then better ordered? Must we surrender our deepest instinct to Biology? Research has pointed out that early man experienced death differently from us. He by no means considered it something self-understood, as the necessary antipode of life. Instinctively he felt that death was not only unnecessary, but wrong. Where it occurred it came as the result of a particular cause, of a spiritual power of evil — even in cases of accident, old age, or death in battle. Let us wait a moment with our smile and with an open mind try to accept the possibility of the primitive’s being closer to the truth than the professor.

Is death self-understood? If it were, we should accept it with a sense, however heavy, of fulfillment. Where is there such a death? True, here or there we find someone who sacrifices his life for some great cause; or another who has grown weary of the burden of and accepts death with a sense of relief. But does the man exist who from the very essence of his vitality, consents to death? I have never ,met him, and what I have heard of him was poppycock. Man’s natural stand to death is one of defense and protest, both rooted deep in the core of his being. Death is not self-understood, and every attempt to make it so ends in immeasurable melancholy.

Nevertheless, this life and death of ours belong together. When the romanticists attempted to make them the opposite poles of existence, comparing them with light and dark, height and depth, ascent and decline, this was aesthetic thoughtlessness under which lay a demonic illusion. But on one point they were right: our present forms of living and dying do belong together. They are two sides of the same fact — a fact which did not exist in Jesus.

In him there was something that towered above our little life and death. He lived more deeply and purely than it is ever possible for us to live. It has been pointed out that Jesus’ life was poor and uneventful in comparison with that of Buddha through which streamed all the good things of earth, both material and spiritual: power, art, wisdom, family life, solitude, wealth and its renunciation, and above all, length of days, which enabled him to experience existence in all its breadth and depth. Strangely brief, almost fragmentary by contrast, Jesus’ life and work. Yet how could it have been otherwise in a life whose essence was not richness, but sacrifice?

Nevertheless, what Jesus did experience, every gesture, every act, every encounter, he experienced with an intensity that out-weighted mere number and multifariousness. There was more to his meeting a fisherman, a beggar, a captain than in Buddha’s acquaintance with all the strata of human existence. Jesus really lived our life and died our death, real death (its terrors were only the more terrible for the divine strength and sensitivity of his life) yet everything was different both in his living and in his dying.

What decides the essence of a human life? In St. Augustine we find a thought which at first strikes us as strange, but which, carefully weighed, leads deep into existence. Asked whether the souls of men and the spiritual beings of angels are immortal, he answers: No. Naturally, man’s soul, being spirit, and hence indestructible, cannot die as his body dies; it cannot disintegrate. Still this is not yet immortality as the Gospels know it, immortality that comes not from the soul, but directly from God. (Unlike that of ox or ass, man’s body receives its life from the soul; his essential vitality is carried over from his soul in an arc of flame.) The life of those souls who appear in Revelation, however, comes directly from God in the arc of flame known as grace. In that life, not only the soul, but also till body participates in grace, and the whole fervent being, body .and soul, draws its life from God. That final stage then is true, sacred immortality.

God has shaped human life mysteriously indeed. Man’s essence is meant to leap up to its God and return with the life it has taken from him. Man should live in a downward-sweeping movement that begins in heaven, not from earth upward, as animals do. His body should draw its sustenance from his spirit, his spirit from God; thus man’s whole being would be infused with ever-circulating vitality.

But sin has broken this entity; sin that was the will to autonomous existence, that desired “to be as Gods” (Genesis 3:5). And the arc of fire burned out; the ardent circle collapsed. True, man’s rational soul, being indestructible, remains, but its indestructibility has become a shadowy Ersatz. The body also remains, since it is the soul’s necessary covering, but it now covers a `dead’ soul, one no longer capable of transmitting to the body that life which God intended it to have. Thus life has become simultaneously real and unreal, ordered and chaotic, permanent and fleeting.

It is this that was different in Jesus. In him the flaming arc still burned divinely pure and strong, and not only as grace, but as Holy Spirit. His humanity lived from God in the fullness of the Holy Ghost, through whom he was made man, and in whom he lived to the end — and not only as a God-loving man lives, but as God and man.

There is still more to this: only he can possess humanity like Christ’s who not only clings to God, but who “is” God. Such humanity is alive in quite a different way from ours. The curve of fire ‘between’ the inseparable Son of God and Son of Man is that mystery behind Jesus’ life and death that enabled him to live our human life and die our human death more profoundly than we ourselves. With him life and death assume new dimensions.

Matthew reports on the wonderful incident which took place on the last trip to Jerusalem.

“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. And his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as snow. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking together with him. Then Peter addressed Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If thou wilt, let us set up three tents here, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias.’ As he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, `This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him.’ And on hearing it the disciples fell on their faces and were exceedingly afraid. And Jesus came near and touched them, and said to them, `Arise, and do not be Afraid.’ But lifting up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

“And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus cautioned them, saying, `Tell the vision to no one, till the Son of Man has risen from the dead’ “
Matthew 17:1-9

By “vision” here is meant the particular kind of vision outside the realm of hitherto known experience, with all the mysterious and disquieting traits of an act of heaven: light which comes from no natural source but belongs to the spheres of inner reality; likewise the “cloud,” which has nothing to do with the meteorologic forms we know, but is something for which there is no satisfactory word — brightness that conceals rather than reveals, heavenliness unveiled yet unapproachable.

Further visionary characteristic is the suddenness with which the figures appear and disappear, leaving behind them the emptiness of an earth abandoned by heaven. This vision then is nothing subjective, no suddenly projected inner picture, but response to a spiritual reality, as the senses daily respond to physical realities. The event does not merely descend upon Jesus, or take place within him; it also breaks from him, revelation of inmost being, arc of the live flame within him become apparent.

In the gloom of fallen creation the Logos blazes celestial light but the dark asserts itself; “… grasped it not …” as John says in the opening of his Gospel. Thus Christ’s truth and love, which long for nothing but the freedom to spend themselves, are forced back into his heart — sorrow God alone can measure and comprehend. Here, on the mountain though, for one moment, they break through in all their radiant clarity. This was the Light which had come into the world and was powerful enough to illuminate it completely. On the way to death the glory of what may be revealed only after death breaks out like a jet of flame, burning illustration of Christ’s own words on death and resurrection.

What is revealed here is not only the glory of pure, angelic spirit, but of the spirit through the body, glory of the spiritualized body of man. Not the glory of God alone, not a piece of disclosed heaven, not only the sheen of the Lord as it hovered over the ark of the covenant, but the glory of the God-Logos in the Son of Man. Life above life and death; life of the body, but issue of the spirit the spirit, but issue of the Logos; life of the man Jesus, but issue of the Son of God.

The Transfiguration is the summer lightning of the coming Resurrection. Also of our own resurrection, for we too are to partake of that transfigured life. To be saved means to share in the life of Christ. We too shall rise again, and our bodies will be transformed by the spirit, which itself is transformed by God. In us mortals blissful immortality will once awaken; read the magnificent fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians.

Such is the eternal life in which we believe. “Eternal” does mean merely endless; we are that as spiritual creatures of God anyway, “by nature.” But the general indestructibility of the soul is not yet the blissful, eternal life that Revelation describes. That comes to us from God. Actually, “eternal” life has nothing to do with the length that life; it is not the opposite of transitory life. Perhaps we come closest to the truth when we define it as life which participates in the life of God.

Such life has received from him its conclusiveness, its all-inclusivenes, its unity in diversity, its infiniteness and immanent oneness (things that our present life lacks, protest as we may and must for the sake of that dignity with which God himself endowed us).

In the new life such eternity exists for all, whether one is a great saint or the least “in the kingdom of heaven.” The differences exist within eternity itself, where, admittedly, they are as great as the differences in love. This eternal life does not wait till after death to begin. It already exists.

The essence of Christian consciousness is founded on its presence — through faith. The degrees of that consciousness are limitless and dependent on many factors: its clarity strength, and “tangibility” (the depth to which it is actually experienced and lived).

Whatever our measure, something of it is always behind our living and our dying, whether given by grace or seized by faith: something of that flaming arc which broke through for the first time on Tabor, to reveal itself victoriously in the Resurrection.


The Transfiguration – Fulton J. Sheen

March 29, 2013
The Transfiguration can not only be seen as foreshadowing of the glorification or the resurrection, but it is the promise that discipleship can bring both to this life and the life to come.

The Transfiguration can not only be seen as foreshadowing of the glorification or the resurrection, but it is the promise that discipleship can bring both to this life and the life to come.

Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name.

The second incident took place within a few weeks, at most, of Calvary, when He took with Him to a high mountain Peter, James, and John — Peter the Rock; James destined to be the first Apostle-martyr; and John the visionary of the future glory of the Apocalypse. These three were present when He raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. All three needed to learn the lesson of the Cross and to rectify their false conceptions of the Messiahs. Peter had vehemently protested against the Cross, while James and John had been throne-seekers. All three would later on sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane during His agony. To believe in His Calvary, they must see the glory that shone beyond the scandal of the Cross.

On the mountaintop, after praying, He became transfigured before them as the glory of His Divinity flashed through the threads of His earthly raiment. It was not so much a light that was shining from without as the beauty of the Godhead that shone from within. It was not the full manifestation of Divinity which no man of earth could see; nor was His body glorified, for He had not risen from the dead, but it possessed a quality of glory. His crib, His carpenter trade, His bearing opprobrium from enemies were a humiliation; fittingly there should also be epiphanies of glory, as the angels’ song at His birth and the voice of the Father during the baptism.

Now as He nears Calvary, a new glory surrounds Him. The voice again invests Him in the robes of the priesthood, to offer sacrifice. The glory that shone around Him as the Temple of God was not something with which He was outwardly invested, but rather a natural expression of the inherent loveliness of “Him who came down from heaven.” The wonder was not this momentary radiance around Him; it was rather that at all other times it was repressed.

As Moses, after communing with God, put a veil over his face to hide it from the people of Israel, so Christ had veiled His glory in humanity. But for this brief moment, He turned it aside so that men might see it; the outgoing of these rays was the transitory proclamation to every human eye of the Son of Righteousness. As the Cross came nearer, His glory became greater. So it may be that the coming of the anti-Christ or the final crucifixion of the good will be preceded by an extraordinary glory of Christ in His members.

In man, the body is a kind of a cage of the soul. In Christ, the Body was the Temple of Divinity. In the Garden of Eden, we know that man and woman were naked but not ashamed. This is because the glory of the soul before sin shone through the body and became a kind of a raiment. Here too in the Transfiguration the Divinity shone through humanity. This was probably mud more natural than for Christ to be seen in any other pose namely, without that glory. It took restraint to hide the Divinity that was in Him.

And even as He prayed, the fashion of His face
Was altered, and His garments
Became white and dazzling;
And two men appeared conversing with Him,
Moses and Elias, seen now in glory;
And they spoke of the Death
which He was to achieve at Jerusalem.
Luke 9:30, 31

The Old Testament was coming to meet the New. Moses the publisher of the Law, Elias the chief of the Prophets — both of them were seen shining in the Light of Christ Himself Who, as the Son of God, gave the Law and sent the Prophets. The subject of conversation of Moses, Elias and Christ was not what He had taught, but His sacrificial death; it was His duty as Mediator which fulfilled the Law, the Prophets and the Eternal Decrees. Their work done, they pointed to Him to see the Redemption accomplished.

Thus did He keep before Him the goal of being “numbered with the transgressors,” as Isaias had foretold. Even in this moment of glory, the Cross is the theme of the discourse with the celestial visitors. But it was death conquered, sin atoned and the grave despoiled. The light of glory which enveloped the scene was joy like the “Now let me die,” which Jacob said on seeing Joseph, or like the Nunc Dimittis which Simeon uttered on seeing the Divine Babe. Aeschylus, in his Agamemnon, describes a soldier returning to his native land after the Trojan War and in his joy saying that he was willing to die. Shakespeare puts the same joyful words on the lips of Othello after the perils of voyage:

If it were now to die
‘Twere now to be most happy;
for, I fear,
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.

But in the case of Our Lord, it was as St. Paul said, “Having joy set before Him, He endured the Cross.”

What the Apostles noticed as particularly beautiful and glorified were His face and His garments — the face which later would be splattered with blood flowing from a crown of thorns; and the garments, which would be a robe of scorn with which sneering Herod would dress Him. The gossamer of light which now surrounded Him would be exchanged for nakedness when He would be stripped on a hill.

While the Apostles were standing at what seemed to be the very vestibule of heaven, a cloud formed, overshadowing them:

And now, there was a voice which said
To them out of the cloud,
This is My beloved Son,
In whom I am well pleased;
To Him, then, listen.
Matthew 17:6

When God sets up a cloud it is a manifest sign that there are bonds which man dare not break. At His baptism, the heavens were opened; now at the Transfiguration they opened again to install Him in His office as Mediator, and to distinguish Him from Moses and the Prophets. It was heaven itself that was sending Him on His mission, not the perverse will of men. At the baptism, the voice from heaven was for Jesus Himself, on the Hill of the Transfiguration it was for the disciples.

The shouts of “Crucify” would be too much for their ears if they did not know that it behooved the Son to suffer. It was not Moses not Elias they were to hear, but Him who apparently would die like other teacher, but was more than a prophet. The voice  was testified to the unbroken and undivided union of Father and Son; it recall also the words of Moses that in due time God would raise up from Israel One like Himself Whom they should hear.

The Apostles, awakening at the brilliance of what they had seen, found their spokesman, as almost always, in Peter.

And just as these were parting from Him,
Peter said to Jesus, Master
It is well that we should be here;
Let us make three booths in this place,
One for Thee, and one for Moses,
And one for Elias.
But he spoke at random.
Luke 9: 33, 34

A week before, Peter was trying to find a way to glory without the Cross. Now he thought the Transfiguration a good short cut to salvation by having a Mount of the Beatitudes or a Mount the Transfiguration without the Mount of Calvary. It was Peter’s second attempt to dissuade Our Lord from going to Jerusalem be crucified.

Before Calvary he was the spokesman for all the who would enter into glory without purchasing it by self-denial and sacrifice. Peter in his impetuosity here felt that the glory which God brought down from the heavens, and of which the angels sang at Bethlehem, could be tabernacled among men without a war against sin. Peter forgot that as the dove rested his foot only after the deluge, so true peace comes only after the Crucifixion.

Like a child, Peter tried to capitalize and make permanent this transient glory. To the Savior, it was an anticipation of what was reflected from the other side of the Cross; to Peter, it was a manifestation of an earthly Messianic glory that ought to housed. The Lord Who called Peter “Satan” because he would have a crown without a Cross now ignored his non-crucial humanism, for He knew that “he spoke at random.” But after the Resurrection, Peter would know. Then he would recall the scene, saying:

We had been eye-witnesses of His exaltation.
Such honor, such glory was bestowed on Him
By God the Father, that a voice came to Him
Out of the splendor which dazzles human eyes;
This, it said, is My beloved Son,
In Whom I am well pleased; to Him, then, listen.
We, his companions on the holy mountain,
Heard that Voice coming from heaven, and now
The word of the prophets gives us more
Confidence than ever. It is with good reason
That you are paying so much attention to that Word;
It will go on shining, like a lamp in
Some darkened room, until the dawn breaks,
And the day star rises in your hearts.
2 Peter 1:16-20



Blessed are the Peacemakers; Blessed are You when Men Persecute You — Peter Kreeft

January 2, 2013
The peace that Christ blesses is the peace the world cannot give. It is peace with neighbor, self, and God; not with the world, the flesh, and the devil. It not a peace with greed, lust, and pride, but the peace that comes through poverty, chastity, and obedience, three most counter-cultural virtues.

The peace that Christ blesses is the peace the world cannot give. It is peace with neighbor, self, and God; not with the world, the flesh, and the devil. It not a peace with greed, lust, and pride, but the peace that comes through poverty, chastity, and obedience, three most counter-cultural virtues.

The Seventh And Eighth Beatitudes
Seventh, Christ blesses not peace, but peacemakers. Peacemakers are not pacifists. Peacemakers are warriors, but they are spiritual warriors, warriors against war. Sometimes war can be conquered only by war. Everyone speaks highly of peacemaking. How, then, is that countercultural, except to terrorists? Because the peace that Christ blesses is the peace the world cannot give. It is peace with neighbor, self, and God; not with the world, the flesh, and the devil. It not a peace with greed, lust, and pride, but the peace that comes through poverty, chastity, and obedience, three most countercultural virtues. These two kinds of peace are in fact at war with each other.

Our world’s peacemakers will embrace Christ’s peace, but only if they do not have to give up the world’s peace and only if they do not have to fight for it. Thus, paradoxically, we lack true peace because we are reluctant to war against the enemies of peace, and also because we do not put the three ingredients of Christ’s peace in the proper order. We preach incessantly about peace with neighbor, but seldom about peace with God.

Thomas Merton reminds us of this necessary order in three wonderfully simple sentences when he says, “We are not at peace with each other because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” Christ does the same in putting the first table of the law first, as Moses did. We need to relearn lesson one.

Christ blesses peacemakers, but when you are at war, you can make peace only by waging and winning war. Christianity is judgmental and repressive and negative. For Christianity says to us that we are at war, ever since a certain incident in Eden, and war judges the enemy (that’s why a war is fought: because a judgment is made about an enemy) and represses the enemy (that is what defense is: repressing the enemy’s offense) and negates the enemy, destroys the enemy (that is what offense is, destroying the enemy’s defense). Our enemies are real, just as real as flesh and blood; they are principalities and powers. They are not men; they are demons. And they are also our own sins.

Our Lord told us that he came into the world to bring a sword to wage and win this war. The sword is a cross. Happiness does not consist in pacifism; happiness consists in peace, and peace can be obtained only by waging and winning a war to make peace. The cross is like a syringe; it gives us a blood transfusion. It is the opposite of a normal sword. What Christ does is exactly the opposite of what Dracula does. Dracula, like the demons, takes our blood, our life. Christ gives us a blood transfusion. We are on a battlefield between Christ and Dracula.

When Christ says that peacemakers are blessed because they “will be called the sons of God,” he does not mean that peacemaking is the cause and being a son of God is the effect. The other way around: only the sons of God can make God’s peace, do God’s work. Peacemaking is the effect. But peacemakers are called sons of God. They are known to be sons of God because we recognize the cause by the effect.

Blessed are You when Men Persecute You
The eighth beatitude blesses not just pain or suffering, but persecution, that is, suffering imposed by rejection and hatred. This is the only one of the beatitudes that Christ repeats, both to emphasize it as the final and most outrageous beatitude of all, and to emphasize that it is not merely the pain, but the rejection, the reviling, the slander, that is blessed.

But how can this be? Everyone wants to be loved. How can it be blessed to be hated? One possible explanation is utterly inconsistent with Christ: a kind of sneering superiority, as if it were blessed to say to those who hate us, “I wouldn’t want love from worthless fools like you.” Surely it is great grief that the persecutors are fools. Of course they are not worthless fools; if they were, there would be no reason for our grief for them. And therefore grief on our part that they are not blessed is real, if we love our persecutors as Christ does and commands us to: “Love your enemies.” Notice that he does not say, “Do not use the word enemy, it is not nice.” We have enemies, but we must love them.

The reward that makes persecution blessed is the same as the one that makes poverty blessed: the kingdom of Heaven. Persecution has the same blessing as poverty because persecution is a form of poverty, poverty not of money, but of love, that is, of being loved. Both money and love are blessed only when they are given: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

We desperately crave love from the world. But the world is not Christ. The world is fallen, fallen into the knowledge of good and evil. The world is therefore afraid of Christ as the cavity is afraid of the dentist or as the liar is afraid of the light. (I use the word world here in the scriptural sense: not as the planet (Gaea, matter), which God created good, but as the time word, eon, that designates the era of sin, the kingdom of the devil.

Persecution is not blessed in itself, but it becomes blessed if it is persecution “for righteousness’ sake”, for the sake of God, not only explicitly, but also implicitly, that is, if you are persecuted for being that which God is: for being Godlike, for being righteous. Thus the righteous pagan like Socrates is also blessed when he is misunderstood, hated, rejected, persecuted, and killed, like Christ.

Just as your peacemaking is a sign that you are a child of God, and thus blessed, so being persecuted for the sake of your righteousness is also a sign that you are a member of His kingdom and thus blessed. Blessing comes only from what is good, and persecution, poverty, etc. are not good in themselves. Christ is not a Stoic or a Hindu or a Buddhist; blessing does not come from not caring about the good things of this world, which God created, nor from seeing through this world as an illusion, as maya, nor from the clever device of spiritual euthanasia by which our desires for things are quenched so that we can avoid the suffering that they bring. No, the Christian knows something real and good in itself that the Stoic, the Hindu and the Buddhist do not know (even though they may implicitly long for it and even attain it in the end), and that something is, simply, Jesus Christ. He makes blessed even the nails in His cross. And only He makes them blessed.

He that Loses His Life for My Sake shall Find It
Our ninth desire is for life, and the ninth blessing is death. Death contains all the other paradoxes. Christ teaches us this blessing of death not in words only, but also in deed — by his cross, which sums up all the beatitudes.

And the cross reveals the hidden source of all eight beatitudes: the historical fact, not the abstract principle, that God, out of sheer love for us, became incarnate, died, and rose to save us from sin and death. As Dorothy Sayers said, “The dogma is the drama.” By this dramatic judo, death itself was turned into an instrument for life, as an earthen dam is overwhelmed by the waters of the flood that conquers it, and the dam is swept along and made into a part of the flood itself. So the flood of God’s infinite life, when it entered our world, not only conquered death but turned death itself into life’s most powerful instrument. In the words of the old anthem “Open our Eyes”, “Thou hast made death glorious and triumphant, for through its portals we enter into the presence of the Living God.”

Blessed are the Peacemakers
We anticipate that final death, and its final blessing, in all our little deaths now. Our participations in Christ’s eight beatitudes are those little deaths. We not only anticipate it, we actually participate in it, in these little deaths, the real little (or large) dyings that we do every day. And we also anticipate and actually participate in the final blessing, “the presence of the Living God,” every time we “open our eyes” and see who it is that is really present there. Where our eyes see only the most undramatic little wafer of bread, look who is present! How absurd that we find it easier to get up off our knees than to get down!

The secret of happiness is very simple. It is Jesus. Not just the philosophy of Jesus, but Jesus, his real presence. He actually comes to us in such unlikely vehicles as poverty, pain and persecution. He has weird taste in vehicles. He came to Jerusalem on a donkey. And when he comes, he acts with power, though usually also with subtlety and not bombast. He really works!

I am haunted by my memories of a few precious hours in the company of two happiest groups of people I have ever met in my life. In both cases I was supposed to speak to them. In both cases, they spoke to me — with very few words, like Mother Teresa, like Jesus. One group was in fact Mother Teresa’s nuns, in Boston’s worst slum. Another was a convent of contemplative Carmelites in Danvers, Massachusetts. What they said to me, simply by being who they were, was unmistakable: “See how happy I am; see how happy Jesus makes me!” This is how happiness happens: it is not so much taught, like math, but caught, like measles.

The Church is in the business of spreading the good infection, like in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, only this is a good infection. And that is “the new evangelism”. And it is also the old evangelism that won the world two thousand years ago. It will do it again, for there is no argument against real happiness. The smiles of the saints are the arguments that will win the world for Christ again. They are unarguable. Only one thing, then, is necessary to create a world of happiness from pole to pole. And it is not doing any of the many good things that Martha did, but doing the one thing that Mary did: just sit at Jesus’ feet; just be in his presence, know his love, all day. That is the scandalously simple secret of happiness.


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