Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pope's New Series Announced; von Harnack Wouldn't Like This

Every Wednesday the Pope has a general audience during which he gives a short sermon. John Paul II began to focus each address on an individual psalm. Pope Benedict continued this practice until recently he finished up the series, covering the last of psalms to be discussed.

Catholics have been eager to see what the next topic of these addresses would be - Benedict can now pick a topic of his own choosing. Today it was announced: "the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church."

He emphasizes Christ's concern to purify and unite the People of God. He goes on to condemn individualistic interpretations of Christ, which neglect the communal element in Christ's preaching of the Kingdom. Specifically, he relates Jesus' preaching of the Kingdom to Jewish eschatological hopes for the restoration of Israel.

I was thrilled to read this because this is the focus of my dissertation. I guess the writing process will now include frequent references to the upcoming Wednesday audiences. This was SO good, I had to post it here. Here is the bulk of it:

In this sense, we must say that we completely distort Jesus' message when we separate it from the context of the faith and hope of the chosen people. As did John the Baptist, his immediate precursor, Jesus principally addresses all of Israel (cf. Matthew 15:24), in order to "unite it" in the eschatological time that arrived with his coming.

And as happened with John, Jesus' preaching is at one and the same time a call of grace and a sign of contradiction and judgment of all of God's people. Therefore, from the first moment of his salvific activity, Jesus of Nazareth tends to unite and purify the People of God. Although his preaching is always a call to personal conversion, in reality it continually tends to build the People of God which he came to gather together and save.

For this reason, the individualistic interpretation of Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom as proposed by liberal theology is unilateral and unfounded. Summarized by the great liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack in his conferences entitled "What is Christianity?" he said, "The Kingdom of God comes in the degree in which it comes to specific men, finds an opening into the soul and is accepted by them. The Kingdom of God is the 'lordship' of God, that is to say, the dominion of the Holy God in each different heart" (Third Conference, 100ff).

Actually, this individualism of liberal theology is accentuated particularly in modern times. In the perspective of biblical tradition and in the realm of Judaism in which Jesus' work is classified despite all of its novelty, it remains evident that the entire mission of the Son made flesh has a communitarian finality: He came precisely to gather together a scattered humanity, he came precisely to gather together the People of God.

An evident sign of the Nazarene's intention to gather together the community of the covenant in order to manifest in it the fulfillment of the promises made to the forefathers, who always speak of summoning, unification and unity, is the institution of the Twelve. We have heard the Gospel of the institution of the Twelve.

I now reread the central passage: "He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons: He appointed the twelve …" (Mark 3:13-16; cf. Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16).

In the place of the revelation, "the mountain," with an initiative that manifests absolute awareness and determination, Jesus constitutes the Twelve so that they might be witnesses and heralds with him of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. There is no room for doubt concerning the historical character of this call, not only because of the antiquity and multiplicity of testimonies but also because of the simple fact that the name of the Apostle Judas, the traitor, appears despite the difficulties that including his name could imply for the incipient community.

The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implied in the new initiative of founding the holy people again. After the downfall of the system of the 12 tribes, Israel awaited the reconstruction of this system as a sign of the arrival of the eschatological time (this can be read in the conclusion of the Book of Ezekiel 37:15-19; 39:23-29; 40-48).

By choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with him and making them sharers in the same mission of announcing the Kingdom with words and deeds (cf. Mark 6:7-13; Matthew 10:5-8; Luke 9:1-6; 6:13), Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived; the time for rebuilding God's people, the people of the 12 tribes, which is now converted into a universal people, his Church.

By their mere existence, the Twelve -- called from different backgrounds -- have become a summons to all Israel to conversion and to allow themselves to be reunited in a new covenant, full and perfect accomplishment of the old. By entrusting to them the task of celebrating his memorial in the Supper, before his passion, Jesus shows that he wanted to transfer to the entire community, in the person of its heads, the commandment of being a sign and instrument of the eschatological assembly begun by him.

In a certain sense, we could say that the Last Supper is precisely the act of founding his Church, because he gives himself and in this way creates a new community, a community united in the communion with himself. From this perspective, it is understood that the Risen One grants them, with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the power to forgive sins (John 20:23). The Twelve Apostles are in this way the most evident sign of Jesus' will over the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: They are inseparable, despite the sins of the people who make up the Church.

Therefore, there is no way to reconcile Christ's intentions with the slogan that was fashionable a few years ago, "Christ yes, the Church no." The individualist Jesus is a fantasy. We cannot find Jesus without the reality that he created and through which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God, made man and his Church, there is a profound, inseparable continuity, in virtue of which Christ is present today in his people.

He is always our contemporary -- our contemporary in the Church built upon the foundation of the Apostles. He is alive in the succession of the Apostles. And his presence in the community, in which he himself always gives himself, is the reason for our joy. Yes, Christ is with us, the Kingdom of God
is coming."

Zenit News


nate suda said...


Thank you for posting - I very much enjoyed it. What is the address of the site you got it from?


Michael Barber said...

Thanks for pointing out that I hadn't posted a link. There is one now. You'll see that there is a longer introduction that I skipped...

Trubador said...

Re: community vs. individualism

Lord's Prayer: "Our Father, who art in Heaven..." (not "My Father, who art in Heaven...")

Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God..." (not "I believe in one God...")

Hail Mary: "... pray for us sinners..." (not "...prayer for me, a sinner...")

Have YOU got your B-16 shot yet to boost your spiritual immune system? This'll be a good pontificate, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the references to communal aspects of prayer, but the beginning of the Nicene creed in Latin actually uses the word credo....which means I believe, not we believe. By saying/singing the same thing, however, we do express our unity in faith.

Banshee said...

If you read that 30 Giorni article translation and transcript that Amy Welborn linked to, you'll see that this has been a concern for the Pope since his student days. Interesting....

Woody Jones said...

Trubador, uh, I think "Credo in unum deum" is translated "I believe in one God..."

Michael, keep up the good work out there at Fuller, I hear it is becoming a hotbed of Catholic scholarship (the old evangelist is spinning non-stop in his grave).

All the best to you all.