The Bard’s religion, the Kingdom of God, etc.

 

DOES IT MATTER?

Perhaps it’s time to cease differentiating what brand of Christianity the Bard practiced (“Was Shakespeare Catholic?” May 4)! If that rose by any other name would smell as sweet, cannot a Christian still be a worthy follower of Christ without the designation Roman?

In her essay “Grace” from The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson (an expert on the subject) references several of his plays and concludes that “it is appropriate to see Shakespeare as a theologian in his own right, though the perils that attended religious expression made his theology implicit rather than overt.” She writes that his theological seriousness is “quite particular to him among playwrights…simultaneous with his greatness as a dramatist.”

She apparently sees no need to assign “her theologian” any particular niche in Christianity, a church where all situate themselves, albeit in different pews, facing the same altar.  

Lyn Baumstark
St. Louis, Mo.

 

A NECESSITY, NOT A LUXURY

As an amateur student of history for over half a century, I found the exchange between Massimo Faggioli (“A Wake-Up Call to Liberal Theologians”) and Michael Hollerich (“Do Catholic Theology Departments Have a Future?” May 18) quite interesting. I am not a theologian, but I do know that without the ongoing and continuous development and study of theology, we will lose the guideposts that light our way in living a Christian life. I will leave the professionals and the hierarchy to wrestle with this challenge. 

I think that an understanding of church history is a pillar in the proper study of theology. Without it Catholics cannot understand the workings of the Spirit on the men and women who struggled these two thousand years to get the message of Jesus right. Knowing of their struggles in learning how to govern themselves and organize their communities provides us with guides to carry on our own struggle. We learn lessons from all of these efforts.

The dumbing down of Catholics in church history and in all study of history for that matter is, in my humble opinion, the reason why we are in a perplexing global situation. History, church history in particular, is not a luxury in a curriculum. It is part of the foundation stone for lives meant to be lived according to the message of Jesus as our foremothers and -fathers tried to figure out. 

Mary Louise Hartman
Princeton, N.J.

 

PAINFULLY HONEST

I read Jerry Ryan’s Last Word (“He Does Not Forget,” May 4) a week after visiting my ninety-nine-year-old mother. Ryan admits the elderly “have lost all power of seduction”—a painfully honest definition of old age.

It also provides the most thought-provoking, yet hopeful, explication of “blessed are the poor in spirit” I’ve ever read. Thank you, Brother Ryan.

Cassie Dillon
Asheville, N.C.

 

GOD’S SYMPHONY

Terry Eagleton’s article “Cast a Cold Eye” (February 23) profoundly affected me. In college, my theology professor said two things about death: first, that the Christian understanding of death is that “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” and second, that everything we do on earth is “of eternal significance.”

Saying that the Kingdom of God is at hand is an existential claim that we are living God’s grace right now and, as such, are called to manifest that grace by how we conduct ourselves in the world, for the good of the world and ourselves. (That speaks to Eagleton’s statement about “the value of value.”) The notion that everything we do is of eternal significance could suggest a transactional view of death, in which the things we do on this earth while alive will “buy” us the Kingdom of God in death.

One could look at these two statements and see them as contradictory, but I don’t think they are. That the Kingdom of God is at hand suggests that we are already a part of it and it is ours to become a full participant in it, if we so choose. It is all around us. It is in everything we do and say, in our every relationship, with every other child of God. What we do while we are here on earth is about the Kingdom of God and our place in it. This helps me avoid treating concepts of God and love and forgiveness and redemption as transactional concepts or dynamics. Jesus, the Great Revealer of God’s grace, showed us through his death on the cross and his Resurrection that God loves us, forgives us, redeems us even when we don’t deserve it, even when we don’t ask for it. It is too easy to fall prey to the prideful notion that somehow we who have not committed dramatic and notorious acts will somehow profit more from some humanly ill-conceived divine transaction at our death. That concept reduces God to a kind of venal bean-counter or lawyer, not the God of freely given love. Death should not be thought of as the fulfillment of a macabre contract, when our virtues and kindnesses are exchanged as legal “consideration” for God’s contracted-for heaven.

If the Kingdom of God is an eternal continuum, birth and death and the beats of life’s journey in between are all part of a symphony of interaction with God, although admittedly—as Eagleton observes—birth and death are the most dramatic events along the continuum. That birth and death and everything in between are tangents on a continuum of the Kingdom of God seems self-evident to me in the Christian context. We existed on that continuum before we were born. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). We exist on that continuum while we toil on earth. “And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:30-31). We return to the sight of God upon our death if we choose to gaze in His direction and not avert our eyes. “In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Michael Burnett
Charlotte, N.C.

Published in the June 15, 2018 issue: 
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