THEOLOGY: LIBERATION OF CHRISTIANS
Canisius College, Buffalo, NY 14208
The identity of the God of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most significant foundation of believers' relationship with the Absolute. If God were a demanding judge, as the more traditional, Roman - oriented believers have been asserting - the influence of the Jansenists, - then the youthful, American believer might conclude that one must live alienated from the harshly judging Absolute.
However Jesus of Nazareth had begun a revolution against the image of a God who insisted upon the Law. Jesus had rather insisted upon a radically new identity of the Absolute One: "Abba." "Abba" means not "father," as it is generally translated. It is the Aramaic word, used in circles of family intimacy, to refer to the father; thus it is similar to the English "Papa." The "Papa" was an intimate family member, a source of family expects understanding, compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and even play. The "Papa" certainly did not relate to his offspring as a demanding judge who insists upon exact observation of external observations of the Law. "Abba" was apparently the word that Jesus had insistently used as the designation for the One. (1)
So those who learn to think of the Absolute One in the more theologically based identity of "Abba" might discover there the common good that liberates believers from the image of the demanding judge of conservative believers. They might thus be free to rejoice in the tolerance and even the play that "Abba" lavishes upon them. They might thus be free from the more conservative believers' claim that they need to be released by a baptism in the Spirit to live devotedly for God. Rather they might discover, the "Abba" of Jesus Christ embraces as believers all humans, even those who may find themselves quite distanced from the circle of those who practice the devotions of the more pious believers. The youthful - minded Americans might find comfort in the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the father (Abba) understandingly and compassionately embraces even the son who had quite intentionally and apparently with folly distanced himself from the reach of his father's care (Luke 15: 11 - 32).
Jesus also began the revolution against the traditional meaning of the presence of the Kingdom of God. The traditional Jewish understanding of the Kingdom was Judaism. Jesus however proclaimed that in every moment the Kingdom is "here at hand" to all humans, i.e., in the midst of every human's experience, in every situation which is "here." Thus the presence of "Abba" encounters not only Judaism, but every human at every moment.
1 Kingdom Proclaimed by Jesus Hence that revisionist Kingdom of God of Jesus' proclamation extends well beyond the confines of the church of devout believers, i.e., the Kingdom is confined neither to the devout, nor even to the Christian congregations; it extends beyond the confines of those who confess a god, i.e., the Kingdom extends to every human. Nor is the Kingdom exclusively located in a life beyond; it is not more present to those who have passed the barrier of death than to those who thrash about in the business of living.
This is a reassuring common good to youthful - minded believers who may judge as alienating the claim by the more conservative believers, that the presence of God is with those who are charismatic, or perhaps with those who are Christians, or more likely with those who have passed through death to a heavenly realm. This vision inverts the meaning of the Presence, so that it extends to every individual, whether that individual practices their Christian faith, practices any religion, lives, or no longer lives. Jesus had insisted that God is present to everyone unconditionally.
2. Kingdom interpreted by Karl Rahner Furthermore, the twentieth century theologian Karl Rahner has derived from Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God his vision of transcendental theology. Rahner located the presence of God in human limit situations. He inferred, if God is as present in profane as in religious contexts, then one can expect to discover the Presence in situations which are entirely removed from those of " pious feeling," or "a sort of festive religious uplift, or any soft comfort." Rather one can find the Presence in every experience of human living. So Rahner turned to specific, human experiences such as those in which one remains quiet, even though one had been unfairly treated; forgives someone, even though the forgiven person offers no thanks, but takes it for granted; obeys, not because of necessity, but because of a quiet interior urging; loves God when such love seems to lead into a negation or a death (2)
In such experiences, Rahner inferred, those who act had intimated a transcendent presence who had invited them so to act. Individuals at times act in response to the transcendent Presence in experience. Thus one may act against the conventional wisdom of the surrounding culture. In so acting one witnesses to the Presence within common human experience. Such a theological vision of the Presence within human experience might be a common good that liberates the youthful - minded believer. One can then live with the awareness that not only those who are devout, but all who are alive are in the context in which the Presence encounters them and in which people can respond to that Presence. Such a vision certainly extends God's presence and love far beyond the periphery of the charismatic community. The youthful - minded American can identify as a common good the belief that the God of Jesus Christ is the God of the universe, not only the God of those who are active members of a charismatic community.
3. Kingdom envisioned in literature Elizabeth Dreyer in her Manifestations of Grace has discovered that contemporary British and American authors have formulated their awareness of the presence of God within human life:
William Shakespeare in "King Lear;"
T.S. Eliot in "The Hollow Men" or "The Four Quartets;"
Emily Dickinson in her nature poetry;
Gerard Manley Hopkins in most of his poetry, e.g., in "God's Grandeur";
Walt Whitman in "The Compost;"
Robert Frost in "Iris by Night, "The Hired Man," and others;
John Updike in "Seven Odes to Seven Natural Processes;"
And Donald Mangum in his short story, "Hostess" (New Yorker, September 28, 1987).
The hostess under the pressure of the chaos at the party in her house- trailer ignored that pressure in order to be present to a distraught woman who had mistakenly called the trailer when she dialed a wrong telephone number. (3)
4. Access to The Kingdom is Available to All The youthful-minded believer might indeed be elated to discover that not only theological, but also poetic insights have discovered the Presence within common place experiences of human living, not exclusively within religions' "moments of soft comfort," to use Rahner's image of inversion. Even the evangelists had portrayed Jesus as having similarly proclaimed God as present aside from religious contexts: to tax collectors; to those who are outside of the Law; to the disreputable woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears; even to the non-Jew, non-believing centurion whose child had died.
So too the more liberally oriented believer might discover hope in Jesus' Good News, that God is present even to that individual who does not practice a faith, who has no faith, or whose way of life separates one from any institutional religion.
5. Paul's Vision of the Kingdom Paul, the apostle, expressed that hope. He, an enemy of Christ, had been called by the Risen One. He concluded, God gratuitously gives the divine self to every individual, even to one like Paul, who preferred a self - righteous fidelity to legal observances, rather than to a life of self - surrendering trust in a transcendent Presence. Paul therefore radically insisted, God's self-gift is gratuitous. Thus Paul urged believers to ignore all legal obligations, even circumcision (Rom 4:9-13). The more youthful-minded believer cannot but ponder whether Paul might not similarly insist now that believers ignore the church's legal obligation of baptism. The cautious believer relies upon fidelity to church law or upon the supposed insurance of institutional baptism as security for salvation. Paul might very well insist with that believer, that one refuse to place one's trust in external practices, but rather in the God who grants the divine self gratuitously. Paul insisted, God does not respond to external practices. Those who are youthful or open might rejoice because of the common good in Paul's freedom from legal obligations and his rejection of the more conservative, Jewish insistence upon external observances.
Conclusion: Openness of the Community to the Spirit
The basis of Church doctrine has been (and must be) the Rule of Faith - "...legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" (4), "the faith of believers determines the doctrine for believers." That has been the official Church's standard for fashioning doctrine since the fifth century. Those doctrines which indeed have been fashioned as a consequence of the belief of the community - for example, Mary's immaculate conception - have been accepted by the community as doctrine. Those however which have been fashioned without consulting the belief of the community - for example, papal infallibility - have been eventually ignored as doctrine by the community.
The more youthful-minded believers might well judge that their discovering of the rule of faith is a common good in that, the church generally has been sensitive to the community: the authority upon which church doctrines are grounded is not the hierarchy, but the wide community of believers.
Probing believers might moreover have difficulties with various, specific doctrines of Christianity. Any of a series of objectionable doctrines might be selected; in each of those the probing believer would likely discover however that the doctrine expressed more of the community's belief than of doctrinaire authority.
1. Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology. New York: Scribers', 1971, pp. 67 - 68.
2. Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations, vol. III, pp. 86 - 89.
3. Elizabeth Dreyer, Manifestations of Grace, pp. 214 - 222).
4. Pope Celestine I , letter written in 431 - Denzinger - Schoenmetzer, #246; Pope Pius XII, letter written in 1941, Denz. #3792; Pope Pius XII, Divino afflante Spiritu, 1943, Denz. # 3828.