Wednesday, March 31

First impressions of Tomorrow's Catholic

(note - this is a repost from my old blog)

I just recently read Tomorrow's Catholic by Michael Morwood. It is a fascinating and very divergent take on the basic concepts of Christianity as interpreted in the light of Millennial science.

In the first, Morwood lays out that both Scripture and christian tradition should be studied using a historical-critical approach (which is what most 20th century scholars in historically minded fields have been doing). As I have myself pointed out, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed we recite every mass is a collection of refutations to heterodoxical beliefs which the church was dealing with in the 4th century - most of which no longer exist and/or matter. As my dealings in history have shown time and again, the more one understands the historical and social context in which a concept is born and developed, the more fully one can fathom and appreciate it.

To be brief, the collection of books which we presently consider canon was assembled over the course of several centuries. Indeed, the two testaments of the Bible are a literary compilation created from Jewish sources (Septuagint) and what was believed to be writings of various apostles and church fathers, with certain additions and deletions from the texts as was deemed appropriate at the time. It is very much a document which reflects the concerns, attitudes and beliefs of (what became) the eastern Roman Empire in the 1st through 3rd centuries.

Just as our worldview and science has changed from Lucretius and Aristotle, Morwood argues that our spiritual and religious world-view should reflect the realities of the 21st century.

He starts with the premise that the Divine is everywhere, in everything. Not an old man who lives in a box at the front of the church or somewhere 'up in heaven', but an entity of any/all/no sex who exists everywhere and in every thing simultaneously. So, God is in you, me, the dog, the dog who lives on Antares 3, etc. This Divine presence is so radically different from us that it is fundamentally beyond our grasp to fully understand it. A being of (effectively) infinite power and knowledge, but also of infinite understanding and compassion.

To acknowledge this means that you acknowledge that you are part of God. That acknowledgment nullifies the idea that Original sin has caused a separation between mankind and God. In short, mankind, individually and collectively, are born in union with the Divine, which is commonly known as a State of Grace. The implications of this cannot be understated, as it entirely alters the relationship between ourselves and God as well as shakes the very foundations of the church structure. This simple concept theologically refutes not only Calvin, but all of Christian (and, truthfully, all Abrahamic) thought.

We are not morally depraved creatures who have screwed up and need God to clean up our collective mess. What we are is a bunch of people who tend to forget that connection to the Divine. We forget that everyone and everything is a part of God and is deserving of both God's love and our love. If you love someone, you don't steal from them, defraud them, hurt them or even be rude to them. So, we need to be reminded of that connection. You know..."Love the Lord your God...and love your neighbor as yourself". As I'm fond of saying, "Jesus says 'Don't be a dick!'"

Speaking of that carpenter's son, what about him? How does he fit into this? Well, the divinity of the Christ can't be in question, as we all hold the Divine in ourselves. Nor is there really any true question as to the humanity of Christ. Entirely ignoring the special circumstances of his birth, it is rather obvious that he was born. Morwood argues that the point of Christ's story is to cajole us back into that divine connection and to provide a social, moral, theological construct by which we can reclaim the spark of Divinity within us. That is the central message of the Christ.

And his sacrifice? If there is no Original Sin to wash away, was the blood of the Paschal Lamb was shed for naught? From what I read, Christ's death and resurrection was no less real nor less needed. All the major beliefs of the day held that sacrifices/offerings were a required part of communion with the Divine. To even have the conversation considered required that it be held in the language of the day. If the message was to get through, then these things had to happen.

What of the Eucharist? In a system free from Original Sin, where does the Body and Blood of Christ fit in? Paul says "You are the body of Christ, member for member." [1 Cor 12.27] . Augustine picks up on this in one of his homilies.

If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members,
it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table!
It is your own mystery that you are receiving!
You are saying "Amen" to what you are­
your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith.
When you hear "The body of Christ"­you reply "Amen."
Be a member of Christ's body, then,
so that your "Amen" may ring true!

The Eucharist is, then an affirmation of our re-union with the Divine...a recognition that we are mortal and yet hold within us the spark of the Infinite.

Morwood discusses the Trinity as a model by which we may be able to understand the Infinite Divine, but it is not an accurate description of it. The trinitarian model is bound up with homoiousios and hypostatis, words which have specific and arcane theological meaning but may or may not have had identical meanings in 1st century greek as they do in our understanding of them today (or what the Church Fathers thought it meant). What is important is that we, not unlike the people in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, do not mistake the shadow of reality for reality itself - do not confuse the model of God for God itself.

In conclusion, I will say that Morwood presents an engaging narrative which embraces the essence of the early faith while radically challenging the cherished traditions and customs which have grown up around Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. Further reflection regarding the consequences of his ideas needs to occur, but for a Lenten-tide meditation, one could do worse than contemplate such things.


No comments:

Post a Comment