15 October 2012

Baptism and Christianity, Part 6

Part V, posted yesterday.

Christian Creation and Eschatology
Christian life – a life lived in and through Christ – does not end upon one’s biological demise.  At the same time, the goal of Christian life is not solely about “getting to heaven.”  Both of these perspectives warps Christian eschatology into something incoherent with baptismal life lived in Christ.  In reality, eschatology – the study of “final things” – rests on the very edge of what the Church may declare itself to be competent to comment upon.  If the “final things” are nearly outside the Church’s bounds and require epistemological honestly, so too is the Church’s ability to comment upon the beginning of the universe similarly restricted.  Christian beliefs about creation and eschatology flow from all that has been previously discussed.  They appropriate fundamental theology, Christology, ecclesiology and even sacramental theology to speak about where Christians find themselves and to where they hope to be going.  For instance, Tradition and Revelation and sin and grace provide a framework for what the world is right now; using this, the Christian may come to general suppositions about how the world once was and what this life will come to be.  Similarly, only through Christ does the Christian find the origins of the meaning of life, as well as its fulfillment.  Furthermore, the Church’s ministerial life derives from its conviction that its life and ministry possesses real significance.  And in the sacramental sphere, Christians experience the Presence and Absence of the Risen Lord, a true eschatological reality.
Baptism provides a lens through which Christianity articulates its most basic views about the beginning of the world and its end.  The waters of baptism provide an honest epistemic footing because they use the most basic of human symbols to emphasize the mysterious nature of life and death in Christ.  Baptism reorders the Christian view of these topics.  Rather than viewing life as being one of flesh now and spirit later, baptism changes the categories by which life and death are viewed.  It is with good reason that theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger note that true death for the Christian takes place in baptism (Ratzinger, Eschatology).  In his mind – and in the mind of the Christian theology at large – death is not the transformative moment in existence of the Christian.  Rather, baptism is true death and resurrection for the Christian.  Biology notwithstanding, the baptized person dies once with Christ and shall not die again.  As Saint Paul noted, a Christian is baptized into both Christ’s death and his life, i.e. resurrection (Romans 6:4).  Or as prayed through song, He (Jesus) lives no more to die (Jesus Christ is Ris’n Today).  The same can be said of the baptized!  Augustine too recognizes the eschatological implications of baptism.  He writes of baptism that, “it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead” (Cf. Augustine, Sermon 8, OOR Second Sunday of Easter).  Christian life cannot be confined to an either/or of “now” or “then.”  Christian eschatology finds its root in the person of Christ, in whom is located the Kingdom of God.  Moreover, by being baptized, the Christian comes to participate deeply in the Trinitarian life of God.  Here the oft-used, yet always accurate maxim of “both now and not yet” to describe the Kingdom of God maintains its import.
The existential in-breaking of the Kingdom of God is well accepted by most Christians.  In like manner, Christians generally accept, if they do not particularly understand, the eschatological significance of baptism.  In speaking of creation and eschatology two issues are particularly ripe for misunderstanding.  They are creation and eschatology themselves.  Christian beliefs regarding the beginning and end of the world should maintain epistemic honestly; however, the human desire to distil scientific fact from religious faith is dangerously present.
A Christian theology of creation draws upon the previously articulated theology of Revelation.  The accounts of Genesis are not literal narratives of what happened before there was anything.  These cosmogonies rather teach the reader of Sacred Scripture key truths about the nature of God and his respective relationships to the world and, more specifically, to humanity.  With the advances of science, a several-thousand year-old world, replete with a six-day cycle of creation is no longer theologically (or scientifically) tenable.  Nevertheless, the Genesis accounts are not dismissible.  When combined with other scriptural testimony regarding creation found in both the Old and New Testaments, several important truths come to light.  For the Christian, God creates ex nihilo, that is, from nothing (Clifford).  Because of this, Christians view the world as contingent completely upon God; accordingly, the world and all that it contains is the total gift of God.  It is only through God’s continued self-gift – his grace – that the world continues to exist.  This view does not suggest a controverting of scientifically held facts but emphasizes the importance of Christ.  This position situates Christ as the one through whom and from whom all creation has found its beginning and will find its end (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16).
The final destiny of humanity also causes no shortage of confusion amongst Christians.  Popular apocalyptic and misreading of apocalyptic accounts of Sacred Scripture lead many to believe – the words of Scripture to the contrary notwithstanding – that humanity has been given an actual vision of when and how the world will end.  Bound up in questions of the world ending are also inquiries regarding the individual destinies of Christians (and non-Christians).  In reflecting upon soteriology earlier, the beginnings of such answers received voice.  Here then we recall the beginning of the baptismal liturgy par excellence, the Easter Vigil.  At the beginning of the Vigil, the celebrant remains outside the Church itself and blesses the Easter Candle.  The formula used to bless this symbol of new life begins “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega…” and ends by invoking the protection of Christ, who has been wounded for our sake (Roman Missal, 3rd Ed./McCabe).  

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