10 October 2012

A Christian Portrait, Part 3

Part I.

Part II.

And now, Part III:

Basic Theological and Anthropological Concerns
Baptism leads Christians into the mysteries of faith.  In the baptismal rite, Christianity recognizes the fundamental anthropological moorings of its theological economy.  This reality stems no less from the very Incarnation of Christ.  From water, the building block of biological life does also flow eternal life.  This is the seminal Christian moment in which one becomes part and parcel of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  What’s more, baptism invokes the Trinity upon the baptized – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It thus brings the baptized into the Trinity’s inner life, opening the incredible economy of grace inherent in the immanent Trinity, while also ontologically commissioning one to share in the abundance of life in the economic Trinity.  Such participation allows the Christian to make sense of sin and grace, which are the very grist from which is milled the hopes, fears, joys and disappointments of human existence (cf. Gaudium et Spes §1).  Basic Christian doctrine encompasses these fundamental matters: Revelation and Tradition, sin and grace and the inner-life of God, the Trinity. 
            Revelation is the free and gracious communication made by the living God to humans.  It is characterized by its pure giftedness and intelligibility to humans.  Christians believe revelation reaches its existential fullness in Christ, who in turns mediates it through himself (Dei Verbum, 2).  This claim, however, implies that the work of receiving revelation is a task incumbent upon all believers, albeit in different manners, according to one’s charism.  Such interpretation derives both from the sense of the faithful (individual and collective) as well as magisterial authority – determining the correct dynamic between these two interpretative poles is still very much an open issue, and moves beyond the scope of this synthesis.   This position implies that God wishes humanity to know him intimately and respond accordingly (DV, §1).  There is nothing prior to Revelation, other than God himself.  Humanity receives Revelation through its own mediated experience, yet Revelation remains an objective entity.  It is the human who introduces subjectivity into the equation. The gift of Revelation is not contingent upon “anyone” other than God.  When this Revelation fails to be received or appropriated, it does not imply a failure upon the part of God.  Rather, such difficulties can instead be linked to the lived experience of sin and grace by the Christian. 
             Revelation finds its communal reception in Tradition.  Tradition is most basically the collected memory of the Christian community.  Tradition rests alongside Sacred Scripture, giving insight into how Word of God, which is living and effective, may be dynamically interpreted (Heb. 4:12).  Tradition also contains the lived experience of the Church.  Far from being a mere deposit upon which accretions attach themselves as new reflections about Christina faith are made, Tradition is the living, vigorous breathe of the Church.  If, as has been pithily put before, the Church breathes out of two lungs – east and west – the Church also sees from two eyes, Revelation and Tradition (cf. Ut Unum Sint, §54).  Tradition does not exist apart from scripture; neither is it, however, wholly contained within Scripture.  Tradition allows Christianity to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining fidelity to God’s revelatory acts.
            The dialectic of Tradition and Revelation become all the more difficult when exposed to human failure – sin.  Definitions of sin abound, alternatively being called privations, failures to care to love (cf. James Keenan) or acts against divine law.  At its very base, sin is a rejection of the freedom given to humans by God.  Sin abuses this freedom by acting contrary to the way that God would have us act.  Sin supposes freedom to be disconnected from the truth of God’s love in Christ (cf. Rom. 5:8).   The effects of sin are three-fold.  Most obviously, sin damages the relationship a sinner has with both God and the person against whom he has sinned.  At the same time, such actions also make a person more likely to sin again.  All human sin compounds itself with the sins of others, thereby creating structures of sin (called social sin), whereby sin becomes part of the very fabric of a society (Haight).  Many have argued that Christians focus too heavily upon sin, at the exclusion of grace.  However, Christian experience suggests that the depth of social sin provides ample witness to its own effects.  Paul writes correctly that where sin abounds, grace is all the more present.  But to agree to this, the Christian must first understand and know that sin does unfortunately abound (Romans 5:20).
            As previously mentioned, sin does not have the final word in the human drama.  It is through the Christian’s baptism that he is claimed for Christ, marked with the sign of the Cross and designated as elected by God to share in the abundant life of grace inaugurated in new and incredible ways by Christ.  Grace may be defined as the authentic and emphatic presence of God.  Grace is a complete, gratuitous gift of God’s own self to humanity.  It is not an object, but instead the fruit of God’s creative genius, subsequently revealed in his relationship to humanity.  Grace exists as a testament to God’s love for his creation, an abiding presence communicated through divine revelation. 
            The double helix of sin and grace and Tradition and Revelation leads inexorably to the heights of Christian doctrine: the Trinity.  At once the most abstract of Christian doctrine yet also its foundational articulation of God, the Trinity rests at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  This same Trinity also forms the marrow of the baptismal rite.  This is no means by chance.  The Trinity is the basis of Christian theology and baptism is the basis of Christian life.  In short, the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to make the God presented in the New Testament intelligible to Christians.  Efforts to interpret and appropriate the New Testament’s account of God find expression in the bedrock of the Christian baptismal formula: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (CCC, §222). Thus, when Christians speak of the Trinity, they are not “point[ing] to a numerical mystery, but rather to name the God who redeems us in Christ and deifies us through the Holy Spirit” (LaCugna, 161). 
Recalling the basic reason of the Trinity – intelligibility – reminds us why this doctrine remains important for contemporary Christianity; the result of ignorance of the Trinity is a warping of the Godhead, culminating in theism guilty of an overly optimistic epistemology (Crowe, 300).   Christianity is Trinitarian – baptism assures of us this.  A baptismal faith thus prevents one member of the Trinity or another from being culled from Christianity.   By invoking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit upon the baptized, Christians recall the univocal nature of God, while at the same time they also profess the relationships that exist between the persons of the Trinity.  While there are certain cosmic tasks usually attributed to certain members of the Trinity, in the most basic accounting of Trinitarian theology, these actions are few and far between, if existing at all.  Moreover, such language most typically is used heuristically, raising up one or another saving reality for better reflection (Edwards).  Indeed, the simultaneous unity and distinction between the members of the Trinity is at once one of the most vital, yet puzzling mysteries of the Christian faith.

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