our life has eternal value
(by Fr. Cyprian)
We have heard the Prologue of the Gospel of John several times over the Christmas season, including on December 31st, the second to last day of the Octave and, of course, the last day of the calendar year; and again on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas. It is sometimes said that Christianity has no metaphysical system of its own, no philosophy underneath it. It has ritual, it has myth, it has moral exhortation and narrative and symbols, but there is no real single philosophy under girding our Scriptures, which are indeed a collection of books. And so Christianity immediately borrowed Greek philosophy for its metaphysical, philosophical language. And yet (and I checked this with our Fr. Bruno and, as they say, Caesar nodded) it seems to me that in the prologue to the Gospel of John there is at least the beginning of Christian philosophy, a kind of meta-narrative, if you will. In some ways John seems to be in dialogue with Greek philosophy in his use of the concept of Word–logos, for sure.
Let’s say there are, in many systems, these two eternal principles: on the one hand consciousness, soul, spirit, mind, intelligence; on the other hand, matter, creation, flesh, the phenomenal world. Maybe you could call it “the one and the many.” Samkhya philosophy, for instance, which I have studied a lot, ––the philosophy that under girds Yoga––says that these two great principles got angled up together, consciousness and matter (Purusha and prakriti) but it has been an unfortunate marriage, and the whole point of the spiritual life is to end in an amicable divorce, to discriminate and then separate consciousness from matter, soul from body. That is the kind of the movement that underlies a lot of Asian thought. And oddly enough Greek thought isn’t that much different. Plato taught that the body is a tomb for the soul; so again, the end is for the soul to be released to go to the afterlife. From this same line of thinking even the Gnostic tendencies evolve, in a sense, the idea that a perfect and unchangeable God could never be in direct contact with the world or touch anything changeable or imperfect or dirty, so there always has to be a kind of buffer zone between God and the world. These are beautiful descriptions of profound spiritual experiences… but that is not our language, not the language of Judeo-Christian scriptures nor of the Christian mystical experience.
We’ll sing an antiphon later this season that is borrowed from the Eastern Christian tradition, which puts the feast of the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord and Wedding feast at Cana all together: “Today Christ the bridegroom cleanses the church from her sin; the Magi hasten to the wedding feast and water is turned into wine…” We believe that not only was the marriage of consciousness-Logos–soul with matter a beautiful marriage, but that Jesus came to consummate the marriage! There is even this kind of conjugal, erotic language around Jesus entering the waters of the Jordan, describing how he is consummating this marriage. This is the wedding we are celebrating when we say the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, became flesh and dwelt among us. Robert Barron writes that this means that God is “just as close to a simple stone as to an archangel, just as intimate with a forgotten corner of the most unimpressive wasteland as with the grandest of the planets.”
What does this mean practically? I kept trying to say it myself and realized I was only echoing what Fr. Bede wrote at the end of his book New Vision of Reality. Those other expressions of the metaphysical language and theological poetry are to be respected, but this is what Christianity has to offer the conversation when we sit down at the table. It means that our world has eternal value! That’s what it means! Fr. Bede wrote:
It means also that our life in this world day by day, and hour by hour, has eternal value. And it means that history itself, the evolution of humanity and of the world, is all part of this divine drama. The whole universe is to be taken up into the divine along with the whole of humanity in all the stages of its history. All is part of this movement of the divine in matter, in life, in humanity, and we are all being drawn into that, such that our ultimate state is a total fullness of being as we experience the whole.
I think that is a marvelous thought with which to end one year and begin a new one, to realize that history itself, the evolution of humanity and of the world, the unfolding of time itself, is all part of this divine drama, and that the whole universe is to be taken up into the divine along with the whole of humanity in all the stages of its history. Because the Word was made flesh, everything is part of this movement of the divine in matter, in life, in humanity, and as time and history move on we too, individually and corporately, are being drawn into that. The French theologian Jean Mouroux uses a marvelous coined word: we are “consummed.” Even my spell check doesn’t like that word! No, not “consumed;” we are consummed, brought to our perfection and fulfillment.
And this is what we celebrate at the altar each day as we celebrate the Eucharistic, the “wedding feast of the Lamb,” that we consume and are consummed.