Spiritual but not religious might be the dogma of choice my generation, but as this perspective dominated various classroom settings, I found it rather shallow and uncritical in and of itself. Jesus was, along these terms, to be accepted as another wise teacher with other philosophers, prophets, and mystics. This made it easy and convenient to dismiss the entire Gospel of Jesus should it inconvenience me. As a result, this wise teacher Jesus was not quite as subversive as it was probably intended to be. It ignored the urgency at which Jesus taught and ministered, separating the message and the deeds. Over the years I would find myself in several circumstances which become vivid in my mind, challenging me from limiting the Christ into something superficial or shallow.
The Passion of the Christ was released in movie theatres at a time when I took a Speech Class in Community College. With all the controversy across the media, and reasonable concern for anti-Semitism, the teacher allowed us a brief open forum in the classroom to discuss the phenomenon around the film. I was concerned that the person and message of Jesus was limited, in a way that limited the significance, power, and effect of the Resurrection. The students affirmed her criticism that the film was not purely and entirely historical, and I was even more troubled by this. It seemed to undermine the whole endeavor of art and imagination in general, if the only acceptable art was art verified by cold, literal, sensible data. It was as if a theology was not permitted on film because it went beyond the scope of historical facts. As I voiced this concern, it was met with confused looks.
I went on to join religious life, and continued my undergrad studies in San Diego. I took a class about the psychology of the religious experience. We read excerpts from some of the notable writers in western mysticism. I had wondered in what way the Divine was being described in semi-scientific terms, which made the Divine appear to be overly impersonal, and automatic. I think the teacher was satisfied with my criticism, but one of the students in the class was not. I have this vivid memory of her aggressive retort that I could not dare to make God into a person, because people are imperfect. I don’t know her whole story, but she was not a Christian. In fact more students in the class, who described themselves as spiritual but not religious, were more uncomfortable with my criticism.
Finally, my experience in a Philosophy of Science helped me to put the pieces together. We came across a school of thought called “Logical Positivism.” It was characterized by coming to knowledge of facts only by those things which can be verified through sensible data beyond any doubt. Based upon a rigid dogmatic acceptance of an Enlightenment exaltation of Rationalism, that would only allow things to be held as truth should they be verified through severe scientific analysis. Logical Positivism, subconsciously grips the minds of western humanity, while we postmoderns are fighting to deny it. Everyone in this class found Logical Positivism disgusting, but hard to imagine that it was not immensely influential. Even as I was reading much of our Christology texts, I found this lingering within, as the writers felt compelled to respond to “Positivism.”
Alongside some of the academic exercises that I was undertaking, my Augustinian formation was taking shape. For Augustine one of the most important images of The Christ is drawn from John 14:6, where Jesus proposes himself as the only Way to the Father. Augustine, therefore, would describe Christ as the Way on which we travel, as well as the destination to which we travel to, and our own friend on the Way. This puts some of the initiative on Christ, while recognizing our own humble incapacity to attain the Divine Life by our own meager efforts. This is also a recognition of the character of Augustinian Spirituality, of “One Mind and One Heart Intent upon God.” Sometimes Intent is replaced with “On the Way to,” to characterize the Christological focus, as well as the dynamic experience of the journey. We are, therefore, shaped by the journey, and shaped by our experience of the Christ.
At school, with a program committed to the Reform of the Second Vatican Council, we began many of our courses reading the Documents of the Council. I was amazed to find the Christological emphasis on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. We speak of God’s Word as revealed to us in Scripture, but the Council Fathers point to God’s Word, or God’s Revelation in the person of Christ. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s Revelation to Mankind. That puts the person in primacy over the inspired word, which foreshadows, and reveals the Incarnate Word.
Finally, in my Christological course, I have been mutually enriched by Ratzinger and Schillebeeckx theology, which has shaped the central concern of our course. In the past century, there has been a sincere effort to recover the message of Jesus, as if it had allegedly subsided to concerns over the nature of His person. That is, the proclamation of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels focus on the “Kingdom of God,” while the Apostolic Church focuses the proclamation on the person of Jesus the Christ. Ratzinger and Schillebeeckx manage to successfully point out the consistency and unity between the message of the Kingdom of God with the person of Jesus. Ratzinger also draws the term from Origen titling Christ as the “Augobasilaea” which literally translates as “Self-Kingdom.” Jesus parables point to His very person, while the message and challenge of that Dangerous Gospel further compels us to live with a similar unity between who we are and what we do.
I have also found myself concerned, perhaps with my own experience, in which the Incarnation or the Resurrection of the Christ as often seen as a more “Spiritualized and Subjective” events, rather then actual Historical events. The real danger, I have found is to profess the Incarnation or the Resurrection as they have actually happened. That leaves no room for us to be hypocrites or moral cowards. The Incarnation, and the Resurrection verify the Inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the Christ, is the verification, therefore, of God’s continuing engagement, activity, and deep affection for humankind. Jesus, the Christ, is the supreme and concrete manifestation of God’s love for humankind, in that The Christ has chosen to be with us, and to invite us to Divine Life. Further, this Christ has been Raised from the Dead to continually verify the promise for each of us.