Christ

The thought that bothers me is that while I believe that Christ is the key, both to the mystery of what it means to be a person and to the question of the meaning and purpose of existence, to the majority in this country he is at best an irrelevance. I would like to be able to explain clearly and simply why I believe Christ is the key. The annoying thing is that I cannot, for all sorts of reasons. For starters there are at least five ‘aspects’ to Christ – the Jesus of history; the Christ of faith, crucified and risen; the Eucharistic Christ; the Christ whose body is the Church; and the Son, second person of the Blessed Trinity. There is also the Jesus in whom we live and move and have our being. How they relate to each other, how they relate to the other persons of the Trinity and how they relate to me is, to say the least, not clear. 

It is tempting to simplify things by saying that there are really only two aspects – the historical Jesus, God made man, and the Son, second person of the Trinity, but relating to these is not at all straightforward. The historical Jesus is not only 2000 years in the past but he is irrevocably obscured by the spin put on him by the Gospels. They are not, were never meant to be, neutral and objective accounts of his life. In spite of this much of the real man comes through and there is no doubt that he was quite an extraordinary person and, if you believe that he was who it is claimed he was, tells us much about God. What the Gospels and the letters of Paul do is shine a light on the impact Jesus made on those who, either directly or indirectly, came in contact with him, or with his early followers. From these documents emerges a mysterious and enigmatic figure who evoked total dedication and commitment from some, lethal hostility from others and indifference from the majority. Looking back at this historical person today one has to ask – OK, what does he mean for me now? An exemplar, an admirable person, a misguided though well-meaning prophet, the Son of God? If you see him merely as a historical person – of limited relevance to today, on a par with the Buddha, and people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King – coming to ‘believe he was who it is claimed he was’ is going to be difficult, not only because of the historical perspective, but also because it requires getting past the contemporary prejudice against religion in general, and Christianity in particular; it requires a sympathetic, or at least a curious, attitude towards the Christian story and the acquiring of some hermeneutic and exegetical skills. Above all, I would suggest, it requires exposure to those who reflect Christ in their lives. What does ‘reflecting Christ’ mean? Here we are not only back to the problem of ‘which Christ?’, we also have to take account of the particular worldview of the individual, of his/her relevant knowledge and experience. To say, for example, that Gandhi was a Christ-like person will be received very differently by Hindus, fundamentalist Christians and open-minded agnostics. While Gandhi was manifestly not a Christian, he shared many qualities with the historical Christ both in his attitude to others, especially the poor and marginalised, and in his attitude to God. Each had a profound awareness of a transcendent dimension to existence which was reflected in their utter selflessness and in their concern for others. It is precisely here, at this intersection of awareness of the Transcendent and loving concern for others, that we touch on the mystery of Christ.

The ‘Son of God’ bit is even more difficult. There is an enormous hiatus between all that is implied by God, divinity, and the ordinary liturgical life of the Church. I cannot help feeling that in this respect it is easier for the Orthodox, for whom the doctrine of theosis (God became man so that man might become God – Athanasius) is at the centre and with their view of the Liturgy as a reflection here of the heavenly liturgy, than for us Catholics. Which underlines, once again, the importance of an individual’s worldview. But more on this another time.

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