Christ’s Coming as Judgement and Grace (Updates)
Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, his meditation on hope, Spe Salvi, was released today.
My initial impression is that it is denser than Deus Caritas Est — the hand of the professor is evident. It could well serve for Advent reading: a lectio continua.
Here is a passage that caught my attention:
47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ.39 The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).
John Allen, with his usual perceptiveness, has identified a number of themes in the new encyclical that have been pillars of Joseph Ratzinger’s theological reflections over the years.
• Truth is not a limit upon freedom, but the condition of freedom reaching its true potential;
• Reason and faith need one another – faith without reason becomes extremism, while reason without faith leads to despair;
• The dangers of the modern myth of progress, born in the new science of the 16th century and applied to politics through the French Revolution and Marxism;
• The impossibility of constructing a just social order without reference to God;
• The urgency of separating eschatology, the longing for a “new Heaven and a new earth,” from this-worldly politics;
• Objective truth as the only real limit to ideology and the blind will to power.
What I find missing, in Allen’s helpful catalog, however, is the distinctive Christic substance [hypostasis!] that structures the encyclical. The foundation of the Pope’s eschatological vision is the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Christian hope has a personal form and face.
I’m certain that John Allen would not deny this. But it is important, I think, to underline it.
Ian Fisher in Saturday’s New York Times chimes in:
The document, called “Saved by Hope,” weaves a complex but elegant
argument for the necessity of hope, drawing deeply on history,
philosophy and theology. His first encyclical, issued almost two years
ago, concerned charity and love.
Thus, Benedict, whose nearly
three-year papacy has stressed a return to theological basics, has now
explicitly addressed two of the three fundamental Christian values:
faith, hope and charity.