The Biblical-Theology of Pope Benedict XVI
“God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit.” “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The Logos gave birth to the created-order in his image, and directs it with his Spirit, as a liturgical movement, back to its end in the Father. In sublime humility, the Second Person of the Trinity lifts man up to Heaven by his coming down to earth. In an act “unprecedented and humanly inconceivable” the Divine Word expresses himself in human words, in human flesh, and in human culture through the Incarnation. The inner logic of these three elements of human-life are caught up in the ‘polyphonic mystery’ of the Trinity. Ultimately, God cannot be captured in any human language or mathematical laws, but when His Mystery is sought by faith, God blesses the reason with an understanding that surpasses both language and law. This apprehension is more like the beauty of a hymn than the clarity of a syllogism. Thus, the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth does not exhaust the meaning of the Incarnation, as those who seek the historical Jesus assume. Because He is God, Christ resurrected His human body and ascended into a fuller and closer presence. God’s Mystical Body continues “increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” to this day (Lk 2:52). The Christian Ichthus, or Word, swims through time and space in the eternal springs of the Spirit’s Tradition, channeled and made accessible by the bedrock of the Magisterial Priesthood. As the Father, Son, and Spirit are One Essence, homoousious, the Incarnation of God also has a Trinitarian structure: the infallible and inspired Truth, the sacramental and communal Life, and the institutional and historical Way together form one single Mystical Body (cf. Jn 14:6).
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, “he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10). If the mystery of God’s Will, as revealed in Christ, is to unite Heaven and earth, then there must be some graspable bridge between humanity and divinity. It is the Spirit of God who empowers man to know God through the analogy of the Son. This analogy is at once One and Many, for God is truth and God is love, God is human and God is divine. God embodies the whole multitude of virtues of action and values of happiness in a single Holy Substance. All that can be said of Him was “sung” in a solitary Word, because the Father’s entire act of being is contained in His only Beloved Son. Thus, Christ is the mediator and fullness of all Revelation. The purpose of this life is to preach one thing, and in this one Gospel is contained the pattern of the Trinity, the master key to all knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Christ-crucified brings infinite variations to the analogy of Love, releasing men from the bondage of determinism. For freedom to love, Jesus set the children of God free (cf. Gal 5:1). Pope Benedict XVI’s Biblical-theology thrives in this freedom which rejects both the rational-determinism of historical-critical methods as well as the emotional-determinism of Sola Scriptura interpretation. Instead, he listens to both of these methods, but subordinates them to the authority of the Apostolic Tradition. The ‘hermeneutic of faith’ has to be a ‘hermeneutic of continuity,’ or else faith is merely Christian-relativism. “Whereas, for Moslems, the Koran is God’s speech, pure and simple, without any human mediation, Christians know that God has spoken through man and that the human and historical factor is, therefore, part of the way God acts. That, too, is why the Word of the Bible becomes complete only in that responsive word of the Church which we call Tradition.” Pope Benedict XVI knows that the Trinity of Love continues to be revealed by the Incarnation of God acting through the celebrations of the Liturgy. God’s Word on earth is an interplay of Scripture, Tradition, and Office, and this pattern of His Presence is also the tri-fold template of creation, the image of the human person, and the nature of the Church. All things were created in Him through Him and for Him. The only measure of truth is Christ’s likeness, an utterly unique likeness, which only the Catholic Church even claims to possess (Col 1:16).
“Only the Lover Sings”
Art beautifies reality by accentuating difference. Only God’s reflection sees the face of the Other as an infinite perfection Who is also infinitely different. The consonance and dissonance are both Divine. The spiritually-organic Reality of “I AM” grows like a vine in the mind and soul of man, for man can say “I am” only in Him. Through Jesus of Nazareth the revelation extends to “I AM in LOVE with YOU in ME.” “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are” (Jn 17:11). The Oneness of God is like the oneness of the human-animal with creation, the oneness of Israel with the Temple, the oneness of husband and wife, the oneness of Christ with human-nature. The Eternal Act, Elohim, could be likened to a never-ending cosmic orgasm, ceaselessly releasing all of Himself in a flowing supernova of creativity powerful enough to birth new Life from nothingness. Yahweh ejaculates Being into His own womb and produces a Divine child. God dives headlong into the abyss of nihilo and falling finds Himself there. All existence is making love to this same Song. This imperfect language is not intended to debase God, but to exalt sexual-union as one of the Lord’s most preferred metaphors for His covenant with creation. Since sex is considered by many today to be the climatic experience of human love, then certainly marriage to Christ must include an orgiastic state of even greater magnitude and longevity. The passionate art of loving-making is God’s first, and man’s is but a puny imitation. Nonetheless, by sharing in God’s death, so man will one day share in His artistic brilliance.
The Word is the Song, and the whole universe is being swallowed in His rhapsody. “While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken.” The Spirit of Love, as the Master of Ceremonies, conducts the movement of time, blowing where He wills. Humanity need only keep up His tempo to have everlasting life. When Love awakens, none will be able to stand still at the beat of Her heart (cf. Song 2:7,3:5,8:4). But for now, listening to and keeping up with God’s song requires vigilance. For “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt 24:36). Christ’s passion sings the awesome opera of God the Father’s Love for a prodigal child. The Paschal Mystery is the mystery of Love played on the stage of human history. The sorrowful limitations of its presentation are the arbitrary result of human freedom misused. But Love enters into the death of man only to rise from it. When God died, death became part of Love’s Masterpiece. “Love never fails,” because His music never stops (1 Cor 13:8).
“There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar [God]; and he made first the Ainur [Angels], the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.
“Then Ilúvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.’
“Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days.
“Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.”
For man, within this mind and this world, every story is about falling. Falling and rising like music. One is lost only in order to be found. Beauty uses contrast to play. Creativity in essence, as far as it can be analyzed logically, is only possible through a separation (though logic offers only a limited allegory of the Divine creativity). God “divides” Himself, so to speak, by generating the Son, and the Son “divides” Himself when the universe is created. The Spirit spirates through the Son, then through creation, and then back to the Father like a melody repeated on constantly changing chords. Procession from a single Origin binds all things together. In a sense, they are unified by hierarchy; they have union through complementarity, union through relationship. Instruments of a Single Song. God’s ability to be at once whole in Nature and separate in Persons is the central mystery of Life. This is true for believers and non-believers alike, as every human person encounters this paradox in himself first, and then everywhere else in the universe as well. Every healthy person is simultaneously their own self and the observer of their selfhood. This is not merely self-reflection, this is self-awareness; this is thinking, and knowing that you think, in a one single act. This same pattern runs throughout all creation. Matter exists in a duality of light waves and particles, simultaneously omnipresent and local, at the same moment in and out of time. These are real paradoxes of quantum mechanics, the most mathematically precise of all sciences.
Evil is another one of these paradoxes in life, but also the one that has the most dramatic impact on the human condition. In his pride and envy, Lucifer attempted to introduce himself as a flaw in God’s perfection, and therefore as an equal and autonomous creative power. Such is the rationality of pride. The Angel of Light had the greatest intellect ever created, seeing deeper into the depths of divinity than any other angel. But the highest power is not Divine Intellect, it is Divine Love. Love subordinates reason to faithfulness. The intellect is inferior to mystery. Only Love understands Love. When Satan lost his love, by choice, he lost his ability to rationalize correctly, and therefore he made a stupid choice. In the Original Sin, Adam and Eve partially entered into the same mistake, but with less knowledge of God and therefore less culpability. While Satan’s punishment is eternal Hell, man’s punishment, in this life, is temporary hell. Satan’s hell is a commitment to the hatred of life. Man’s hell is made of doubt and fear; it is more like a rhythm of empathy with the Devil, ephemeral, yet still torture for the ego. Death was the choice Adam and Eve made at the Fall (cf. Gen 3). The death they chose was worse than physical death because it was the loss of God’s Life, the spiritual life which sustains all being. God in His Mercy did not completely give them what they asked for, but instead gave them the taste of evil as they bit the fruit. Evil entered into the physical world through the mouths of Adam and Eve. Evil entered into the human soul through the wills of Adam and Eve. Physical suffering and death then became the way out of evil’s grip, for only within pain can the illusion of materialism be truly shattered, and only if that pain is united to the suffering of God Himself.
“But as the [musical] theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor [Lucifer] to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar [God], for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself…
“Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.
“Some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first…
“Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’”
Metaphysically, separation from God’s Being is impossible. God is One, Absolutely, and all things must, by definition, proceed from Him and have their existence in Him. There is only one song. No person in Reality can avoid being moved by the Spirit of Love. However, a person can be moved willingly or unwillingly. Satan is the eternal example of being forced to serve Love against one’s own will. Pain, death, and Hell are the same unwillingness to flow at peace with the waves of Life. Sin rejects one’s role in God’s symphony and plays discord into the harmony of the ordained Song. Nonetheless, by the power and glory of God, being out of tune, as the Devil is, only hurts ears that cannot hear. For no suffering is ever ultimately disconnected from God. God suffers more than any man, and even more than the Devil himself, because He is the source of their continued existence at every moment. Therefore, discord damages no part of God’s Music, for God is always bigger than any rebellion can possibly be. God’s song absorbs the rhythm of death. At the lowest level of the orchestra, where mankind is a spiritual infant, this symphony is barely perceived at all. History is the mystical journey upward through the levels of this masterpiece. The call to holiness is a rising song of seduction. God sings to men and women as to His bride, He beckons them up, to become aroused by Him. As His lover rises through harmonic levels, her soul suffers sorrows sweeter and sweeter, and her fresh ecstasies surpass each previous crest.
“Truth is beautiful in itself… above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos - which both the child and the scientist discover.” “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.” Art is primarily a hobby of receptivity; beauty pours into the soul of man, first, before it overflows onto some medium. The Liturgy is the apex of art, where God pours Himself into man and man in turn is sent out, missa, to spill God’s Love on his neighbor and the earth. Human creativity can offer nothing good to life except by offering back what it has already received. Authentic creativity springs from worship, most especially the Christian Liturgy. “The life of the liturgy does not come from what dawns upon the minds of individuals and planning groups. On the contrary, it is God’s decent upon our world, the source of real liberation.” The Spirit of God moves His presence where He Wills, and obedience to His movement is freedom to dance. Fighting the music or fighting one’s partner both lead to violence and the death of beauty.
The Paschal Mystery sets the tempo of this life. Liturgical events are the map of time. In John’s Gospel, Jesus refers several times to the “hour.” The hour anticipates a moment when Christ will provide wine (cf. Jn 2:4), when Jews and Gentiles will “worship in spirit and truth” (cf. Jn 4:21-23), when the dead will hear the word of God and live (cf. Jn 5:25-28), and when Jesus will die like a seed of grain to become bread and bear fruit for the world (cf. Jn 12:23-27). The hour is the Mass. The Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Liturgical Year govern the days and the seasons of life. Jesus celebrated his New Passover as He prepared to passover death itself, like the Angel of God passed over Egypt hundreds of years before, and like both non-believers and Christians continue watching, to this day, for the Final Coming of a Savior. The foreignness of the Heavenly Liturgy is the cross of the present age, but the present age will die away and the Liturgy will remain. God, as human persons see Him now, is a Love Pattern and a Love Song, to which people can rebel or submit, fight or dance. But true freedom to love is found in acceptance of the other. Jesus Christ did not fight men, even though he could have instantly wiped all His enemies out of existence. He accepted human choice and moved along to their terrible tune of crucifixion. All His followers must do the same.
The “re-presentation,” anamnesis, of the Mass is like the melodic return of musical rifts throughout a song. The Paschal Mystery returns to human consciousness at all the crucial moments of life, and at the climax of every paradigm-shift in history. In his pioneering studies of ancient religious practice, Mircea Eliade speaks of the universality of sacred time keeping. “It can be said of sacred time that is always the same, it is ‘a succession of eternities.’ For, however complex a religious festival may be, it always involves a sacred event that took place ab origine [at the original time] and that is ritually made present. The participants in the festival become contemporaries of the mythical [or historical] event.” The apex of the Christian faith is that point in time where the soul confronts death. All the intermediate moments of worldly life are reaching towards that final moment. The Liturgy provides the place and time where men and women can feed on the only perfect death, the pure sacrifice of Love Himself. The Christian lives to die, and dies so that others may live. To walk daily with the expectation of death’s “hour” heightens the awareness of sin to razor-sharpness and fans the flame of charity into that fearless saintly-heroism all persons revere. This is the fullness of life. God’s new covenant with man is the next movement of His love song, the dancing logos, who shows the world the way of life, the beauty of death, and the Liturgy of His Body that is its source and summit.
My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
Like the lyrics of a holy hymn, Sacred Scripture explains and preserves the spirit of Christ’s song. The relationship between Scripture and Tradition is like the unconscious and conscious mind of Christ, while the Magisterial Priesthood is His life-blood and corporeal body. The teaching of Sola Scriptura reduces Christ’s reality today to something less than human, as it would be to reduce any person to his mere written words. The three-fold presence of Christ in the Catholic Church, however, exalts Jesus’ resurrected body to the Divine proportions it deserves. Yet, paradoxically, it is too humble an exaltation to have been the result of human imagination. All the power of God hides in the weakest and most common materials of earth, but this is no more miraculous than the true Incarnation in the first place. “The Eucharist opens us to an understanding of Scripture, just as Scripture for its part illumines and explains the mystery of the Eucharist. Unless we acknowledge the Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist, our understanding of Scripture remains imperfect.” Ironically, those who claim that Christ came to set us free from “legalism” are often the same people who treat Scripture as a legal text. “With the radicalization of the historical-critical method, it has become clear today that the sola scriptura principle cannot provide a foundation for the Church and the commonality of her faith. Scripture is Scripture only when it lives within the living subject that is the Church.” While, the cross of Christ does destroy the bondage of humanity to “the law,” it is the law of sin and death that is broken, not the law of the liturgy. In fact, the life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ only make sense as a new expression of an ancient liturgical pattern. Jesus’ last words in John are: “It is consummated” (Jn 19:30). These are the words of a new covenantal bond, like the fourth-cup of the Passover, like the nuptial-act of marriage, like the seventh-day of creation when all was consecrated to God by worship and rest. “The new cosmic liturgy is accomplished. The Cross of Jesus replaces all other acts of worship as the one true glorification of God, in which God glorifies himself through him in whom he grants us his love, thereby drawing us to himself.”
“Christ is the prototypos, the first-born of creation, the idea for which the universe was conceived. He welcomes all. We enter in the movement of the universe by uniting with Christ. One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the covenant is the true cause of the cosmos.” As breathing to the beat of the heart is a subconscious – an “infallible” activity of a healthy body, and therefore, a gift of life unearned. In the same way, breathing the Spirit of God is a gift of supernatural-life undeserved. Both are given by God, and also through one’s parents/guardians. Moreover, just as, normally, uncontrolled breathing can be manipulated to give speech and strength, so the Spirit of God can be called upon to re-order one to the rhythm of God’s Will. Shared symbols bring men together, the Song of Praise draws God to men, and the Spirit of God carries humanity to Heaven. The Spirit of Love is the breath of the Church. The Mystical Body of Christ also “subconsciously,” or infallibly, speaks God’s True Word. It is also His Flesh and Blood and Soul, both in the Liturgy and in the temple of the baptized individual. Jesus lives in the person with increasing likeness as he or she conforms the will to the movement of the Church in the present age and in the present moment.
The Devil is in the details because God is in the details. There are two ways to be wrong, the first is to have the wrong details but the right overview. The second is to have the wrong overview but right details. Following this rule, the entire history of human civilization repeats the same two mistakes. Sinful peoples and cultures either worship a false god, or worship the True God in a perverted way. The law of the Jews, largely recorded in the Old Testament Scripture, was the pattern of correct worship to the one real God, correct only because it was revealed by God Himself. The “pattern on the mountain” continues in new forms from the first creation to the new creation because it is the pattern of Heaven itself (cf. Heb 8:5). The tabernacle’s three essential elements – the Arc behind the veil, the bread of presence and chalice of wine, and the tongues of perpetual fire – represented the presence of the invisible Father, the incarnate Son, and the dynamic Spirit. These are the symbols God chose for Himself. These are the details of life that matter most. These are the themes that make sense of the song.
The Pasch, the Passover of death, occurs in every aspect of this life. In creation itself, material states are transient; stars and planets are formed only to eventually explode or disintegrate into space and become some new conglomeration of molecules. In the Gardens of Scripture, life-giving food blossoms from a seed that grew into a tree only to give away its fruit. It becomes ripe, life-giving, fruit right before it dies. In ancient religions, life is sacrificed for favors of forgiveness and blessing. The exitus and reditus of God is experienced and expressed in various ways, good and bad, culminating in Jewish Temple worship. In the human family, a man dies to himself for his wife and is born anew in her womb. And supremely, in the human person, a flesh-bound soul rises from dust, returns to dust again by sin, but then receives Resurrected Life in abundance through Christ’s gift of God’s own Spirit. The metaphor to unite all these is song. “In this symphony one finds, at a certain point, what would be called in musical terms a ‘solo’, a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This ‘solo’ is Jesus… The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work.” Like Love Divine, the movement of music travels through endless combinations of sound and is yet unmoved from its original theme. The consistency of the harmony is like the universal Spirit; the peaks and valleys are the expansion and contraction of the universe and the life and death of souls, as the Father plays games with His Son.
The Word through which all things are made is the perfect expression of God the Father, yet distinct from Him. In the mystery of eternity, timeless time, there is no certain contradiction. Thus, there exists a most absolute necessity: obedience to Love. This is what Pope Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of faith” is striving most valiantly to impart. What Jesus Christ comes to share with the world is His own Love for doing the Father’s Will, even while staring in the face of physical torture and death. To obey the Father is pleasure to the Son. In His faithfulness He draws Beauty behind Him: like the icy blue-tail of a comet, or like children tossing rose-petals and plucking strings behind a Bride and Groom. “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God’” (Rev 19:9). God’s Word is a creative force that gathers voices out of nothingness and builds Temple-like crescendos and child-like diminuendos as He travels. All men exist in Christ, as members of His Body. Where He goes, all men must go. To follow Him through highs and lows is the adventure of Life, the Liturgy of Life. The Trinitarian melody always remains but plays on different instruments. Expressing the music anew is the thrill of the dance. God break-dances through time in these upheavals of creation, where in each instance His threefold Image humbly climaxes and breaks through into a more consuming sacrament: The taste of fruit. The slaughter of idols. The sound of praise. The kiss of sex. The Life of the Spirit. The food and drink of Divinity. Passion flows out of the selfless lover. The lover dies for the beloved. Rest fills the emptiness. Life is a dance. Reality is musical. All is a gift to Immaculate Mary, the archetype of creation, for “Our Lady of Guadalupe” is the Queen of the dance.
 Benedict XVI, Pope. Verbum Domini. 6.
 Verbum Domini. 11, 13.
 Cf. Verbum Domini. 7.
 Vatican II. Dei Verbum. 2.
 Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. The Spirit of the Liturgy. 169.
 From the title of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s book “God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office”
 The title of a book by Josep Pieper, inspired by a quote from St. Augustine: “Only He who Loves can sing.”
 Verbum Domini. 7.
 Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Silmarillion. 1-2.
 The Silmarillion. 5-6.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2500.
 Vatican II. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. 112.
 The Spirit of the Liturgy. 168.
 Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane. 88. Cf. 80.
 “My Song is Love.” A hymn by Samuel Crossman, 1664.
 Verbum Domini. 55.
 The Spirit of the Liturgy. 167.
 Benedict XVI, Pope. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. 223.
 Hahn, Scott W. Covenant and Communion. 23.
 Verbum Domini. 13.
In God’s Human Face, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn uses the sacred-art of iconography as a metaphor for Christology in the early Christian Church. The icon of Christ is an utterly legitimate Christian devotion, just as the Catholic Theology of Christ is most complete. A clear historical parallel can be drawn between the debates of iconoclasm and the debates over Christ’s true nature (3). If Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), and can say “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), then God has already made Himself accessible to the human senses, or more accurately, has made the senses capable of encountering Him sacramentally. The icon of Christ extends God’s sensuality and self-gift, channeling the power of His everlasting Incarnation.
For the heretic Arius, an eternal generation of the Son was impossible, for it would make Christ the Son an equal to His Father. The Fatherhood of God is seen as limitation, accepted for the sake of creation, but ultimately unnecessary and mediatory. Schonborn rebuts this error beautifully. The real magnificence of God is his freedom for love, not his singularity or his ego. The equality of the Father and Son is not a division of God’s power; it is an ultimate expression of Divinity. Saint Athanasius, in response to Arius, clarified for the Church that the word ‘image’, for Christ of God, meant a consubstantial essence with Him. Athanasius’s paradoxical understanding of the Father and Son in a homoousious relationship, a unified essence, led to a newer and deeper understanding of divine personhood, the Greek words hypostasis and prosopon.
How is it that the distinction of persons, God the Father and Jesus the Son, did not destroy their oneness, or that their oneness did not destroy their distinction? To bridge the chasm between Revelation and the available language, Gregory of Nyssa defined the terms hypostasis and ousia to translate roughly to our ‘individual’ and ‘general essence’, respectively. Gregory shifted the Greek paradigm, which saw essences as more valuable than particulars, in favor of a higher respect for the individual. The different properties of the Divine Persons are the specific ways in which they relate to each other. This important Christian Trinitarian teaching of being “unified in hierarchy” developed into the Western foundation for all societal structures, as well as the beginnings of an understanding of the selfhood of the human person. Every human institution and every human soul, after the pattern of the Trinity, contain an invisible essence or image, an ‘imprint’ or sense of that image (Heb 1:3), and ‘the printing block’ or the organ that sees the image (43). The unity of these properties differs in God verses man’s corporation, but both contain the three indispensably.
After, Athanasius and Gregory defended and defined fundamental Trinitarian Theology for the Church, Cyril of Alexander and Maximus Confessor built a Christology of the image. “We have to thank Maximus for the most wonderful Christological synthesis of the ancient Church” (102). Maximus formalizes the Church’s language in confessing ‘compound’ natures in the single person and hypostasis of Jesus Christ, while still maintaining that in His Divine nature he is one and ‘uncompounded’ (107). The ultimate fecundity of Maximus’ Christology rests on his utterly identification between the Person of God the Son with the body and soul of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, the Incarnation is upheld as the one and only true and complete theophany in history, and the Eternal God is recognized as truly and totally present in the historical Person of Jesus. Christ’s ‘way and manner’ of acting reveal the Triune God without ever violating or diminishing His humanness. The goal of his definition was to preserve the paradox from being either over simplified or robbed of its majesty. Logic could not be used to subordinate the mystery, but only to protect it (118). In defending the teaching of God’s Incarnation, Maximus Confessor showed that difference does not normally imply opposition. Only it is a result of Original Sin, of man freely putting himself in opposition to God, that human nature became inclined toward division. The Christological controversy and its many heresies or misunderstandings illustrate clearly the proclivity of man to exclude God Himself from the Church’s doctrinal discussions. The solution of Maximus was precisely the solution of God Himself, that is, to unite two essentially different things in a single hypostasis. Perhaps more accurately, the solution was to accept that Love’s freedom experiences difference as testament to unity. Unification implies ‘parts’ brought together; it is a truer expression of freedom than the deterministic opposition of parts. While rebellion is a choice to become more rigid and limited, Love has the freedom to invite difference, as new children, into a single Spirit and Home.
Schonborn says, “the Eastern Church sees the icon as a condensed version of the Creed.” In it the reality of the Incarnation and the expectance of Christ’s return is acknowledged and expressed by gazing at the face of Jesus. The motivations for the iconoclasm movement were many and hard to isolate, but a definite influence was felt from the Muslim Empire, the Monophysite (single-natured Christ) Christians, and the Jews. Moreover, a puritanical political movement arose within the Byzantine Empire, sparking an overzealous crusade against forms of idolatry, especially, “abuses in the cult of images” within the Christian Kingdom. The veneration of images, even as distinct from their worship, was seen by many as a temptation too great and a return to Old Testament crimes. A subtle resurgence of platonic ideals and heretical subordinationism made it fashionable during this period to reject the body and matter as dignified images of the soul.
Defenders of the images included, Germanus of Constantinople who called the Christian icon a “representation of Christ’s flesh,” an honor to the reality of the Word made flesh. George Cyprius, a bold monk, who refused to surrender the tradition of holy images on the mere temporally bound authority of the Emperor. John Damascene also venerated the image of Christ, considering it a secondary, but real, participation in the Spirit of Christ through the preservation of His memory. Eventually, the 787 Council of Nicaea restored the right of the faithful to venerate icons along with the cross, calling them, “harmonious decorations of God’s house,” but it failed to give a thorough answer to the well-developed Christological arguments of the iconoclasts (205). St. Nicephorus and Theodore the Studite rose to this occasion. Nicephorus found an important distinction that had been missed: the essence of the image is different from what it depicts. The identity between icon and model lies in the likeness, appearance, and form. The consequence of Nicephorus’ theology of images was ultimately a revitalized understanding of flesh and matter as true goods and not, though often flawed, to be defined as elements of the punishment for sin. After all, Christ had come to destroy corruption and death, but not material existence or human nature alongside. Theodore went as far as describing the icon as an image opening to presence of the invisible soul depicted. One can see in this understanding a new appreciation for the beauty of the human body, as a sacramental sign of the human soul who is it, prefiguring the Theology of the Body thirteen hundred years later.
In God’s Human Face, Cardinal Schonborn shows the far-reaching significance of Catholic Christology. “Those who in principle reject the icon, ultimately also reject the mystery of the Incarnation” (237). Those who reject the Incarnation, ultimately also reject the holiness of the human body and even the revelation of God as Love. The temptation to demonize material bodies continues to affect Western culture more than a thousand years after Nicaea II. Lutheranism, the Puritanical movement, and modern sexual ethics each fall victim to the scapegoating of corporeality. In such heresies, the body is a devil, binding the soul in sin, or else a mere machine of pleasure. What began as the defense of the total humanity of the Second Person of the Triune God in the early Byzantine Empire, has matured into a continually deepening Theology of the Body today. Just as the Catholic saints and faithful were the stronghold of proper Christology in the 9th century, so they are now the last citadel protecting sacramental sexuality, human dignity, and the soul-flesh union of the person.
As witnesses of Christ, Christians are commissioned to proclaim the Father’s “Word of Life” (Catechesi Tradendae 1). By the power of the Holy Spirit, who the Father and Son have given, Christians are called to raise-up new and intentional disciples from all the nations; through education and instruction “to help people believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” to build up and strengthen the Mystical Body of Christ (CT 1). In catechesis, Jesus is both teacher and subject. To catechize means “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person” (CT 5). Christ’s own prayer beseeches every human soul to recognize: “this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). The mission of catechesis in the Catholic Church is to show the Way to communion with the Trinity through a systematic understanding of Jesus as Truth and by a continual call of conversion into His Life of holiness.
Jesus Christ is the one Incarnate Word of God who gives His body, soul, and Spirit to each human person as a gift of and from the Father. Christ says, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (Jn 7:16), reiterating that He and His teaching are the mind and the authority of God. Catechesis is an instructional process which is wholly faithful to this divine deposit, who is the full and final Revelation of God. This definitive Revelation was handed down the generations, beginning with the twelve apostles, through a sacramental succession of bishops and ecclesial consensus of doctrine known as the twin presences of sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, both protected by a Magisterial hierarchy: all three together transmit to man the heavenly graces of God’s own life, flowing not from human merits but through the mystical fountain of Christ’s own Body. Gradually and in stages catechesis deepens the student’s intimacy with this divine deposition, subsisting in the Catholic Church, and thus strengthens one’s relationship with Christ who is the “mediator and fullness of all Revelation” (The 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 65).
The Catechism teaches that the human person responds to God’s Revelation with the profession of Faith and the “obedience of Faith” (CCC 142; Rom 1:5, 16:26). “By faith, [one] completely submits his intellect and his will to God” (CCC 143). In Faith, the human person assents to God’s revealed truth by his own free-will. Although God’s Grace leads one to this choice and assists him or her in making it, the freedom of the individual is never violated. Submission to the truth of the creed, which is the earliest form of the deposit of faith, is really freedom from sin, as Jesus said, “…the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). Although man believes on the authority of God Himself, and not on the authority of natural reason, his faith should always seek subsequent understanding, and by the assistance of reason imbued with love discover practical connections between heavenly mysteries and earthly life. Catechesis, therefore, must call the catechized to the assent of faith in Revelation in order that he or she be able to reason rightly. The complementary relationship between specific objective truths of doctrine and the highly personal providence of God is discovered only through a faith sincerely lived. When reason is in obedience to Revelation, it speaks in conversation with Christ about the intricacies of Divine Love. In catechesis, the Mystery of Christ Himself is the alpha and omega point to which every detail of theological analysis refers and returns.
In the liturgy of the Church, humankind celebrates the Paschal Mystery whereby Christ achieved human salvation through His passion, death, resurrection and ascension in hypostatic union with human nature. “Dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life” (CCC 1067). Through the liturgy the Christian participates in God’s work of redemption by uniting himself to Christ’s Priesthood. The liturgy is the visible sign of God’s communion with humanity and the inner ‘temple’ of the Holy Spirit. Because “the sacraments are ‘powers that come forth’ from the Body of Christ” as efficacious signs of God’s Grace in the world, catechesis draws from and points to this worship (CCC 1116; Lk 5:17, 6:19, 8:46). “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings (CT 23).” In the liturgy, Christ continues to preach the saving Gospel through his written word and to offer his very life through the food of His flesh. “Liturgy is the privileged place for catechizing the people of God” (CCC 1074). Liturgical catechesis both initiates the ‘marriage’ and strengthens the union between the God-man and his beloved Church, until the day when the saved see the Father as he is, face to face (1 Cor 13:8; 1 Jn 3:2).
God the Father sends Jesus Christ to give mankind the Life of His Spirit. The catechist, who is always also an evangelist, must proclaim God’s Word not only through teaching, but by the testimony of his or her own Life in the Spirit, for the aim of Catechesis is understanding and conversion. The fruits of living in the Spirit are the Christian virtues. “Catechesis has to reveal in all clarity the joy and the demands of the way of Christ” (CCC 1697): “Realities such as man’s activity for his integral liberation, the search for a society with greater solidarity and fraternity, the fight for justice and the building of peace” (CT 29). Every person is called to the vocation of holiness. Within catechesis, moral education and formation are of utmost importance. The cultivation of holy habits, in thought and action, builds a pure vessel between souls to communicate Christ’s Spirit of Charity, who is able to work in hearts according to their holiness and sanctification (never based in human merit alone). In this way, the Spirit labors through free persons to unite all the Father’s children in Christ’s Body, that is, Love Incarnate. “The first and last point of reference in this catechesis will always be Jesus Christ Himself, who is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’” (CCC 1698; Jn 14:6).
Another crucial task of Catechetics is to prepare the child of God for life in community. Human nature is intrinsically social and so images the divine communion of the Blessed Trinity. Affirming the dignity of the human person and cultivating true creative freedom are the only legitimate ends of a social institution. Any society that subordinates the spiritual reality of man to the ends of a temporally bound body (local, national, or global) will invariably instantiate in it a culture of sin and death. Zealous voices of evangelization and constant calls to conversion are vital to the survival of any such conglomeration of peoples. In imitation of Christ, Catechetics must impart: the spirit of simplicity and humility, solicitude for the least among the brethren, particular care for those who are alienated, fraternal correction, common prayer, and mutual forgiveness (General Directory of Catechesis, 86). This means also developing an ecumenical dimension in one’s social life, such that the Christian strives toward all possible empathy with alien faiths in order to honor the truths therein and sequentially to lead the religious other into that perfect unity which God wills. That union must be in and through Jesus Christ, whose truth and life ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Holiness in private and public life sustains and empowers the missionary initiation of Catechetics. All Christians are sent by Christ into their daily routine in world as His witnesses both to the secular (mission ad gentes) and to the baptized (new evangelization), inviting all peoples to the renewal of life by conversion in Christ. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Mt 28:19). The disciple as such is in a state of perpetual maturation, requiring the seasonal maintenances of body and soul. Through energetic work in The Spirit of Charity, Christians attract and awaken in themselves and others the abundant and overflowing fruitfulness of Christian virtue. “The evangelical attitudes which Jesus taught his disciples when he sent them on mission are precisely those which catechesis must nourish: to seek out the lost sheep, proclaim and heal at the same time, to be poor, without money or knapsack; to know how to accept rejection and persecution; to place one's trust in the Father and in the support of the Holy Spirit; to expect no other reward than the joy of working for the Kingdom” (GDC 86; Mt 10:5-42 and Lk 10:1-20). The success of the Christian mission depends entirely upon genuine conformity to the example of Christ’s own life, led by The Holy Spirit to a childlike and joyful submission to the will of God.
At Baptism, Christians join into living communion with the Blessed Trinity through hidden, vocal, meditative, and contemplative prayer. “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” (CCC 2565). God is constantly calling the human heart to prayer, through the voice of Love, desiring that each soul will freely respond and be filled by Him. The prophets and kings of the Old Testament prayed to God in anticipation and petition for the conversion and salvation of humanity, most especially in the timeless prayer of the Psalms. But “the drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us” (CCC 2598). In contemplation of the Lord Jesus, one learns from God Himself how to pray. He or she first listens to Jesus pray, then in turn discovers how God answers prayer. In blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise, one prays in Christ to Christ, ‘from true God to true God’. Jesus, whose human will is wholly united to God’s Will, gave His disciples the perfect prayer of the New Covenant in the “Our Father.” This prayer summarizes the whole Gospel and fashions one’s mind, heart, and spirit to the Trinitarian movement. It strengthens man and woman, uniting them to Christ in ecstasy and joy just as in humiliation and pain. The “Our Father” is the constant prayer of the Church as Christ until the end of days. Catechesis is founded upon this relationship of prayer between Christ and His Church, and all understanding and conversion proceeds from it. “When Catechesis is permeated by a climate of prayer, the assimilation of the entire Christian life reaches its summit” (GDC 85).
Mary, the Mother of God, is the immaculate model of discipleship as well as catechesis. Long before His public mission began, while Jesus was still a young child, Mary was pondering His words and deeds in her heart (Lk 2:51). Because Mary lived a sinless life, overshadowed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, her example of alignment to God’s heart is paradigmatic. The Trinitarian will and Christ’s human will are perfectly united, and since Mary is the mother of God’s human nature, “everything in Mary has a reference to Christ” (Saward, The Christocentric Mary, 29). It is from Mary that Christ’s Church learns how to be a Mother to the world, gently counseling and passionately interceding for it. Perfection in uniformity to the Body of Christ, which the Church is longing and striving for, is already complete in her. Thus, Mary is the supreme embodiment of the goals of Catechesis. She exhibits assent to the articles of faith in the highest degree; she surrendered all her plans, her virginity, her motherhood, and her whole personality to the service of God and His work of salvation in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Celebration of the sacramental gifts, which are God’s Life given to humanity, is fully consummated in Mary, for who could be closer in communion with the Body of Christ than she who shares with Him the same flesh. Nor will any human person ever draw closer in intimacy to God’s Persons than Mary, who nurtured and raised the Trinity’s Word by the power and strength of the Trinity’s Spirit and thus spent her life observing and conversing with the single intellect and will of God. The Apostles crowded near “the Virgin of Pentecost” in the upper room illustrates perfectly the communal life, as Mary herself was the “first flowering” and the “first Church” of Christianity, whose life and example, then and today, fuels the mission of evangelization (Saward 31-32; CT 73; Acts 1:13-14). Mary’s prayer, “behold the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38), expresses the gracious submissio of the whole Church to the new covenant of Christ (CCC 2617-2619). Mary is creation’s crown and the archetypal catechist, precisely because she has given more than any other has or will to the honor and praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, her Son.
“The Word of God, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the Word of the Father who speaks to the world through his Spirit” (GDC 99). Jesus, who is the fullness of this Word and Revelation of God, is the alpha and omega of Catechetics. In the Old Testament, God prepared the world to receive the Messiah, who would save mankind from sin, through the prophets and laws of Israel. In the fullness of time, God sent His only Son to profoundly deepen man’s understanding of God’s Love to the world, to atone for the disobedience of mankind, and to redeem the world by sending, and calling all to conversion in, the new Life of the Holy Spirit. All of history has been a salvation history, the journey of humanity into the loving embrace of the Blessed Trinity. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, mediates and feeds this growing relationship between God and His children, and pours out the graces of the Holy Spirit to build up man in the Life of Faith until the Church’s mission is complete at the end of time. “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church's life. Not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more, her inner growth and correspondence with God's plan depend essentially on catechesis” (CT 13). Together, the proclamation of the Gospel, preaching of the Word, examination of the details of belief, perpetual progress in the moral life, active participation in the celebration of the sacraments of the Church, the cultivation of strong communal bonds within the Church community, and missionary zeal for the conversion of the world, form the foundational structure of the Church and the content of Catechesis (CT 18). All these elements find their origin in specific dimensions of Christ’s own Life, by which they are nourished and in which they participate in His work of redemption. Thus, the character of Catechesis is above all else, “Christocentricity” (CCC 426-429). “In reality, the fundamental task of catechesis is to present Christ and everything in relation to him” (GDC 98). By conforming to Jesus men become “sons in the Son” of the Father, in the Life of the Holy Spirit, and thus join in the eternal communion of Love which is the essence of the Blessed Trinity and the purpose for which human beings were made (GDC 99-100).