1. Let us open the course by discussing the word “theology”. “Theology” can be cut into two parts: theo which means “god” and logy (or logos) which often means “study” or “discourse”. These are Greek words. In the old Greek sense theology would mean “account of the gods”. Theology would be “discourse about the gods”. In our Christian use it would mean a Christian effort to try to understand what God has revealed to us. “Real theology”, says Rahner, “has as its basis an undistorted hearing of God’s word with a view to salvation, ultimately in the service of salvation itself”. Notice there is the “hearing of God’s word”. There is a receiving of what God has said—in particular what God has said in Jesus Christ.
2. If we look at the different faculties of theology in Catholic seminaries we may find two basic areas of theology: a. historical and b. systematic. The area of history deals with the historical aspect of God’s revelation. So we find studies in the Bible (exegesis and biblical theology), Church history, patrology (or study of the Church Fathers), hagiography (or the study of the lives of saints) and mission theology. In the systematic area we find dogmatic theology (like Christology, Mariology and Ecclesiology or “Church theology”), we find moral theology, cannon law, sacraments, liturgy, pastoral theology.
3. Let us go a bit further to appreciate what theology involves. Let us first take a look at the way many of us Christians would live out our faith.
a. Many would spend a lot of time giving praises to God. Much of their time is spent on doing liturgies like the mass and the novenas. This way of Christian living is what is often called as “doxology”.
b. Many Christians would like to spend their time teaching, preaching and proclaiming about Jesus Christ and the Christian message to the world. This way of Christian living is what is often called as “kerygma”.
c. There are Christians who would spend time giving witnessing to Christ and the Christian message. Through their daily lives and activities they introduce to others who Christ is and hope that others join the Church. This way of Christian living is what is often called as “evangelization”.
d. Then of course there are Christians who spend a lot of time studying about many things—the Bible, the Church etc. They hope to interpret well the Christian message. This way of Christian living is what is often called as “hermeneutics”.
Of course we find these happening together. For example a teacher doing kerygma may, at the same time, be a scholar doing hermeneutics. Then he or she takes time out for mass and liturgy, doing doxology.
4. What about you? What do you notice is the more pronounced way of your life? Look at the amount of time you spend expressing your Christian faith. Maybe you have been reading a lot about the Bible. Or maybe you have been so active in the apostolate of your community—giving witness to the faith. Somehow there is something “theological” in what you do.
5. Whatever it is that we do, notice how basic is the fact that we have received something about Jesus Christ—a revelation. We live it out with some form of understanding because we know that whatever it is that we do, it implies God’s revealed love and concern for everyone.
6. Theology participates in Christian life. God has revealed in Jesus Christ and, according to Pope John Paul II, the function of the Church is to direct the world toward the mystery of Christ (Redemptoris Missio 4). Theology keeps its eyes on the truth about Jesus Christ and tries to deepen an understanding of that truth.
7. There is something important here regarding the nature of theology. In theology we do not create the truth. We receive the truth because it has been revealed. This is why we use the word “revelation”. The truth about Jesus is a revealed truth. So, whatever it is that we do—worship, preach, witness, study—we assume that we are rooted in what has been revealed to us. This is central in Christianity.
8. We live in a very specific time in history. There are many questions and problems that come out today. How well do we face them? How well is our being rooted to the truth? How well is our theology? Theology is always linked with the situation of the Church in the world, in society.
9. Take the example of doing catechism. We might be teaching young people about Adam and Eve. But with the development of science today, like evolution, how can we offer young people a solid understanding of Adam and Eve? We need some deeper study of the Bible, and this is part of theological formation. Take another example. In a neighborhood a couple of young people are sexually involved. They say they really love each other but they are confused with the morality of what they do, since they are not married. How can we explain to them the “truth” in solid ways? Again we need a good amount of theological formation—like moral theology. It is our response to dialogue with the world.
10. Theology would root itself in truth—one way or another. Here are three approaches to how being rooted can take place. It depends on how truth is seen. (Cf. Jean Lamblot)
a. Truth is sometimes understood as a “hidden treasure”. It is revealed as mystery. It needs to be penetrated and understood. Theology would be a way of penetrating this mystery. In the older times, many centuries ago, theology was often associated with contemplation of the mysteries of God. Christians believed that there was also something hidden in God and the task of theology would be to un-cover and discover that hidden reality. This way of looking at theology is ok, and we can follow it. But it has a risk if we are not careful. The risk is to say that theology in the hands of a few. We might say that not everyone has access to the mystery of God; so only a few can “see”. So we need to be careful here. Theology will appear like a study of a privileged few.
b. Truth is sometimes understood as a “bright lamp” that guides us in our lives. The truth, for example, is the eternal face of Jesus and the strong virtues of Jesus. Jesus has revealed to us his self as model of how to live correctly. He has given us some rules and norms for Christian living. So truth can become a “norm”. It tells us how we should understand the truth and how we should lead our lives. In the olden times, the Church was so involved with this type of understanding the truth. There was a time when there were many heresies facing the Church. So theology had to function in the service of countering the heresies by giving norms of what to believe and not believe. This looks ok, but also we need to be careful. When we focus a lot on giving norms, we might give the impression theology imposes and even sends signals of fear. An over normative approach can be judgmental. We might be led to say that we have access to the truth, we lead the correct lives and others do not. We might say we have the monopoly of truth. So, we need to be careful here.
c. A more “today’s” approach would say that truth is God’s initiative to self-communication. This is truth that tries to be as close as possible to biblical revelation. In the end of Matthews’s gospel we read that Jesus sends his disciples on mission to teach. (See 28/6-20). For Jesus truth teaches. Truth communicates to all. In the gospel of John, who is the truth? “I am the Truth” (14/6). Jesus is the truth. So both the teacher and the truth are one and the same. The teacher—Jesus—communicates about who he really is. Jesus communicates by sharing himself, giving himself to others. He lives the conditions of people; he “dwelt among us”. It is a communication by form of “living with”, “being one with”. We feel that God is really “truthful” to us because God is “one with us”; God is in “solidarity” with us. Theology, rooted in this kind of truth, would like to show how God participates in human life. Theology would be a way of expressing that presence of God in the world. God communicates with us and invites us to participate in his life style. This approach is very attractive. There is a risk here too. The risk is to “take it easy too much”, as if a very rigorous study is not important. Let us not forget that theology is also “logy” or study. Let us be careful.
What does it mean to believe?
From Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
1. What does it mean to believe? We might have an idea of faith but the act of believing can be strange to many. To believe is not easy to understand in our world today. We also need to ask about the meaning of believing rather than just go through the “routine”.
To believe, to know
2. Belief is sometimes opposed to knowledge. Here is how the opposition is at times described. In knowledge we know something—there is an object to know. In belief we are not so sure of the object. Instead we have an intimate conviction about something. It as not as clear as in the case of knowledge. Judges in courts are said to sometimes make decisions based on “intimate convictions” even if evidences are not so clear. They might work with “hunches” rather than with “solid information”. (Does this not happen to us too). In science and for the scientist, knowledge is at work. There are objects that are very clear to the scientist. In belief, there can be room for doubt and imprecision.
3. Today we have confidence in scientific knowledge. But when it comes to belief we are told to be careful because belief is said to be “inferior” to scientific knowledge. So when we hear “science says that…” we tend to accept at once. But when we hear “I believe that…” we might be hesitant to agree at once. Belief is something more personal, unlike scientific knowledge. Belief cannot be discussed, verified and debated on. Is the opposition—belief versus knowledge—correct? Let us see.
4. Let us look at it the case way. Belief is something that happens everyday. Many of what we know come from other people telling us about them. And we believe what those people have said to us. A child in school learns his or her lessons believing in what the teachers say. The child cannot go and verify everything behind what the teachers say. Maybe one day, when the child reaches adulthood, he or she can check if all that the teachers have taught are true and correct. But the child at school learns with a lot of believing taking place.
5. What happens to us when we read the newspapers or when we hear other people tell us news? We can be very critical. We might say that the newspaper is manipulating information. We might say that the people telling us news or views are only exaggerating. So we might be prudent in accepting what we read and hear. Yet, think of this. We cannot live without some amount of believing in what others say. We cannot always question and be critical of everything. We live with a good amount of belief. Belief in what others say is at the base of our relationships. Telling a lie is a very serious fault in society.
6. Let us even move a step towards scientific knowledge. Even in science there is believing that takes place. Scientists, for example, make hypotheses. What is a hypothesis? It is a belief that a law in nature explains some events. The scientists can build experiments to verify their hypotheses. If the experiments fail, then the scientists can say that their “beliefs” have to be corrected and changed. But scientists cannot avoid believing that there are laws of nature at work in the world. Belief is in science too. (When scientists talk to each other and discuss their researches, they also have to somehow believe in the words of each one. Without this they cannot work together at all…and there will be no science).
7. It is not accurate to completely oppose knowledge from belief. They form a relationship too. Sure, there are times when we see them different. But we cannot always oppose them. Many of what we know result from believing in the words of other people. This is true in science and in daily life.
Belief in others
8. Let us take a close look at human relations. In life we need to put some amount of confidence in others. We cannot live without somehow believing in others. How can we love or be friends if we do not believe in each other? The “yes” in marriage is a result of belief too. The love of married couples is based on mutual belief. The partner accepts the credibility of the other partner. Each of them relies on the fidelity of the other.
9. Look at your “apostolate”. A person (like a religious) goes to an “apostolate” guided by a love for the victims of injustice or unfortunate events. A person goes to an “apostolate” guided by a faith in the humanity of the people he or she serves. The person going on apostolate believes in sense of the apostolate; it is a faith in the fact that there is one way or another a “solution” to the problem of a victim. If the person who goes on apostolate is guided by love, he or she is also guided by faith.
Belief in values
10. We have our ideas of “good” or “bad”. Of course we can make mistakes in our evaluations. Some of us might be very strict in saying what is good or bad. Some of us might be more lax. But one thing is clear; we hold beliefs in what we see as good or bad. We say, “I believe this is good” or “I believe that this is bad”. There are moments in life when we see that we are not respected. We believe that there are dignified ways of treating us too. If others disrespect us, we believe that our dignity is violated.
11. It can happen that we do crazy things. We make major mistakes and we are also not faithful to the values that we hold. Have we not, at times for example, spoken a big lie? As soon as we realize we lie, we feel something. We sense that we ought not lie. We sense that we are not worried simply of a punishment or penalty. We see that we are breaking an important value. Think of what it means to tell a big lie in the government or at work. It is a lie that affects so many lives. It has wide consequences. For us, in case we make that fault, we sense that the problem is not just with the punishment that will fall on us but on the damage we can do to the lives of others. The problem we experience is that we are not faithful to what we believe in. Our belief in the value of honesty is damaged.
12. If a person has no values at all—zero and completely absent—how can that person live coherently in life? A value to which we commit ourselves becomes an object of faith. We believe in that value. Notice that we are not just talking about knowledge. When we live according to values, we just do not spend time knowing things. We also discern situations. We believe that certain situations must be marked by our values.
13. So to believe is really an essential part of human life. It is not shameful to believe. Belief is part of life, even if it is not strictly a religious belief. We believe in persons around us, we believe in values, we believe in what others say. There is a “minimum” of believing at work in human life. To remove the reality of belief is not just a contradiction to who we are. It is also a loss of who we really are.
14. We make decisions in life. Some decisions are major decisions. Very often we make decisions even if knowledge is not so full. Not to decide is itself a decision. It prohibits us from realizing the benefits of our engagements. Think of a decision to engage in a career or the religious life. We make a decision that does not tell us all the details involved. Our knowledge is incomplete. (At the time you decided to engage in religious life you did not know everything that will take place in the course of your formation. You probably did not even know about MAPAC).
15. In making a decision there are the “for” and “against”. We weight these. “Do I join or not?” “Do I take this path or that path?” “Will I marry this person or join the religious life?” Just think about it, it is very hard to be entirely sure of the security of the future. We will never know what happens next—in five or six years, for example. Some people hesitate, for example, to get married because they are not sure if it will work after some time. Yet, who can escape the situation of decision? “I am not getting married”, so a young person says. But this is a decision too. Decision-making is as certain as the shadows of the future. In life, as we decide, we make leaps. We need to believe in something, one way or another.
16. Religious belief today is presented in different ways—sometimes good and sometimes bad. There are aberrant religious sects, for example, and we read about sexual abuses and even collective suicides. These sects give a sad picture of what people can do, together with the perversion of faith. Beliefs turn out to be manipulative and depersonalizing. There is the emergence, in some parts of the world, of religious savagery.
17. It may, however, be unjust to quickly judge religious beliefs. In history we see the nobility of religious beliefs too. We see what different religions have done to promoted human dignity. Think of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She was motivated by religious belief to go to the poorest of the poor.
18. An expert in the history of religions, G. Van der Leeuw, says that the ancient Hebrews gave birth to a religious faith marked by total confidence in a God who is personally encountered. The ancient Hebrews gave birth to a particular faith. Consider Abraham “who had faith in the Lord and the Lord considered him a just man” (Gen15/6).
19. The question of faith in the Old Testament did not focus on whether God existed or not. That existence was already accepted at that time. In fact, in the land of Palestine and around it there were many beliefs in many gods. Those gods were said to be dominating over the lives of people. There were practices of magic, for example. Those powerful gods had to be appeased. Abraham started something new and different. He introduced a relationship with a unique—one and only—God. That relationship was personal with that God. It started with hearing the word of God—hearing the call of God. In that call was a promise, and Abraham believed in that call and promise. It meant, however, leaving the homeland and moving into an unknown land. The faith of Abraham developed and deepened, as a covenant was made between him and God.
20. What is striking with this faith shown by Abraham is not that God exists but that the human person exists for God. Let us put it is a form of question. Faith does not ask whether God exists or not. Faith rather asks: Is God interested in the human person? Faith asks: Would God enter into human life for the good of the human person? Since Abraham, faith has been a reply “yes, God is concerned with the human person”. At the time of Abraham, this was what took shape and it became the spiritual tradition to which our Christian faith has been grafted.
21. Hebraic faith is not something very technical. It is more of an “attitude” of putting all one’s strength in God. It is more of an “attitude” of finding in God the support of life during times of difficulties. It is more of an “attitude” of recognizing security in God who is the most solid support. God is the solidity of the human person. In the psalms we read images of this solidity, like “God is the rock of Israel” (Ps.61/4). In the prophets we see this image of strength of support, like “if you do not hold on me, you cannot stand” (Is.7/9). Abraham had shown this kind of faith.
22. If we look at Jesus we can see him affirm the same attitude. Remember what Jesus said about building a house on rock versus building a house on sand (see Matt.7/24-27). Concretely this would mean finding in God our support, placing confidence in God by responding to his expectations.
23. Faith, as we receive it from Abraham down to Christ, calls for fidelity. It is fidelity to God who has always been faithful to his own promises. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We read in the Old Testament that the “I believe” consisted of giving a list of what God had accomplished for his people. God was indeed faithful, and so the people returned with their own fidelity. The people of Israel and they would say that “God never abandons those who seek him” (Ps.9/11).
24. Faith implies a strong relationship between God and people. In a sense we can use the word covenant. Faith is a covenant. At the start of the covenant, God took the initiative. He “elected” his people. It was a very small nation. But God “elected” that small nation for the salvation of all peoples. The covenant then became a two-way arrangement. It required dialogue—a response from the side of the people. God took the starting steps; he took the initiative. Later, people respond by living according to the Law of justice, fraternity and love.
25. Faith involves “belief in” and “belief that”. In the New Testament it starts with an encounter. Jesus took the initiative to reach out and meet others. The response of those he encountered was a decision to follow his footsteps. To “believe in” is an action in which the disciple gives himself or herself to Jesus, in the footsteps of Jesus. The disciple places confidence in Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you may go”. This may not be so easy to do. In the case of believing in someone—like a friend or a teacher—we know that we can be disappointed. We may have “believed in” someone only to discover later that we cannot trust that person, we cannot trust the fidelity of that person. We get hurt. It cannot be with Jesus. In the case of Jesus, when we believe in Jesus we assume that what Jesus asks is what God alone could ask of us. Jesus is the definite and true one sent by God. Through Jesus we are asked to believe in God. Through Jesus we believe in God. Just like in the Old Testament, God keeps faithful. God does not disappoint. We believe.
26. What about “belief that”? There is also belief concerning the truth about Jesus. To believe in Jesus is, at the same time, to believe in what he said. It is to believe that what he said is true and saves us. To believe in Jesus is, at the same time, to take as true all that he said. Christian faith has a content concentrated in the person of Jesus who lived, dies and has risen.
27. In Church history we find theologians and thinkers giving views about faith. Saint Agustin, for example, specified three aspects of Christian faith.
a. There is “believe God”. This meant, for Saint Agustin, “believe that God exists”.
b. There is “believe to God”. This meant, for Saint Agustin, “believe in what God has said”.
c. Finally there is “believe in God”. This meant, for Saint Agustin, “give oneself to God, give one’s life to God”. For Saint Agustin, “believe in” corresponds completely to the Christian faith.
Entering into Dialogue
28. When a Christian declares: “I believe in God” (this is the Credo, as commonly known), the Christian expresses faith in God’s initiative as Father and Creator. God took the initiative to create us and God has become our Father. “Credo” for the Christian also means that God manifested as Son who died on the cross and has risen from the dead. “Credo” for the Christian also means that God manifested as Spirit offered to the Church. In Baptism we see a dialogue regarding the “Credo”. So we hear, during the ritual, three questions and three answers:
a. Question: “Do you believe in God the Father?” Answer: “I believe”.
b. Question: “Do you believe in God the Son, Jesus Christ? Answer: “I believe”.
c. Question: “Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? Answer: “I believe”.
29. The Covenant is evident here. God did everything through his Son and through the Holy Spirit. Good took the initiative. We respond, “Yes I believe”. Yes, we believe, we accept, we recognize, and we follow. Yes, we recognize that God is interested in us and wants the best for us. So we accept, we believe.
Voluntarism and Intellectualism
30. There is a saying: “believe first then you will see”. This is not so healthy, actually. It is like saying, “never mind if you are sure or not with what you believe in, just believe; things will be clear later”. It gives priority to the will to believe. It is “voluntaristic”. There is, also a saying: “to see is to believe”. This too is not so healthy. It is like saying, “be sure with what you are getting into, do not just believe”. It starts with the intellect. It is “intellectualistic”.
31. We need to set things straight. We can put both positions together. We can see reciprocity between them. In other words, we can say: “the more we believe the more we see; and the more we see the more we believe”. As we enter into faith, we sense certitude, truthfulness in what we are involved in. As we discern the truth and get more certitude about it, the more we would like to believe. Is this clear—or “clear as mud”? Let us illustrate, taking from our experiences. It is an illustration and it can help us understand better what we are saying here. But as illustration, we will need to supplement it with more thinking and reflecting.
32. In making a choice between—say two jobs—do we not weigh our choices? Let us say we are attracted to one of the choices. We try it out. We do not see things clearly from the start, but we give it a leap. Slowly, as we involve in the choice, things become clear. In the end we feel “at home” with the choice. It is what is clearly for us. But then, we might be disappointed. We feel uneasy and unhappy. We see things clearly. So we move out and take the other choice. Notice the movement. We can engage in something (voluntarily) then see clearly as we move on (intellectually). Then we see things clearly (intellectually) and we discover the nature of our engagement (voluntarily). The illustration, again, is simply to help us appreciate the relationship between “Voluntarism” and “intellectualism”. Faith cannot be exclusively one or the other.
33. Our attitude plays a role here too. If we are enclosed in our ideas and feelings and we are enclosed in our past wounds, we will find it difficult to see things clearly when we decide. We are somehow “blinded” by the “issues”. On the contrary if we open up with sympathy, justice and love, we would see more what we enter into.
Faith as God’s gift
34. Why must our relationship with God go through faith? Why go through the mystery of faith that can be shaken by suspicion, doubt and distress? Why make the leap of faith? Why can things not be so totally clear and evident? If we ask this way, perhaps we do not know what we are asking. In such questions we would be supposing that God can be placed in a “box” and we can know him and understand him totally. This is like saying that we can “domesticate” God.
35. God is God, however, and we are humans. If we understand God, he will not be God anymore, says Saint Agustin. In our desire to know God we might fall into the danger of what is called “idolatry”. Idolatry is a construction of God according to our image, interests and likeness. The living God, however, is always beyond what we could think of him. God can surprise us. God can show different aspects that are, for us, so unexpected. God does not always fit in the boxes we make for him. To believe cannot be anything else but to receive from God. Hence faith is a gift. God, and God alone, can talk to us about God. As one poet, Pascal, would say, “God speaks well of God”.
36. To believe is also the result of an experience that is so unique and so deep. Today it might be called “religious experience”. In the experience of God, the believer sees a gift coming to him or her. It is a gift that goes beyond enclosures. Yet, the believer accepts it freely. It is in this acceptance that the believer is “justified” just like Abraham. For us this means that when we believe we are “justified”—reconciled with God, in communion with God, in the grace and love of God, welcomed in the life of God.
God, the Father of Jesus
From Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
1. In the New Testament the image of God is a caring God towards the human person. To express this care the preferred word in the New Testament is “Father”. God is Father. There is a strong presentation of God as Father and the human person as child of the Father. The image of friend and bridegroom of the human person is given in Jesus Christ.
2. But wait. We might feel that the image of God as Father is something hard to accept. Do we not sometimes feel a rejection toward this image? The image is so marked by negative meaning that we like to reject. Let us take some examples.
3. Modern psychology has unveiled the doubt and confusion in the relationship father-and-child. Freud has even captured the image of the son wanting to “kill” the father in order to move on in life. Look at our own experiences within the family and we will notice the difficulties involved: possessiveness of the parents, the abuse of parental authority, the downplaying of the father towards the son who cannot comply with the father’s ideals, etc. In some of our societies we even hear of news about parents abandoning their families. In fact, within society we also experience “paternaism” and “condescension”. (Paternalism is experienced when a professional assumes he/she always knows better than the client). So the tendency in us and in some of our societies is to be free from the father or from authorities. The image of Father is not well received. So, it may be difficult to see how God is Father. Yet, we shall try.
When Jesus speaks of God
4. What does Jesus say about God whom he calls as Father? The God that Jesus speaks of is the God of the Old Testament. He is the God Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and the prophets (see Mt.12/26 Mk.1/44 7/10). This God is the “wholly Other” who is radically different from the human person. There is nothing of “flesh and blood” in this God. What God thinks and does is not what the human person thinks and does.
5. This can be a powerful God of which Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Most Powerful” (Mk.14/62). The New testament does not hesitate to give God the tles used in the Old Testament: “Master”, “Lord”, “King” and “Judge”. He sits up in heaven. He is all knowing, he even knows more than the Son (see Mk.13/32).
6. This explains why God knows what is going on inside our hearts. When we pray we do not need a lot of words because God already knows what we need (see Mt.6/7-8). God can see our secrets (see Mt.6/4.6.18). He is full of goodwill for us (see Lk.12/6-7). Remember when Jesus is called “good master”, how does he respond? “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk.10/18). The goodness and concern of God is confirmed in the forgiveness of sins (see Lk.11/4). This God saves (see Mk.13/13). He is also the one who reveals to the little ones and not to the wise and intelligent (see Mt.11/25-26).
7. Like the God if Israel, the God of Jesus is a faithful God. But he is also disturbing. In the parable of the vineyard workers he gives the same salary to those who have worked for less than an hour and to those who have worked under the burden and heat of the whole day (see Mt.20/1-15). In the name of generosity, God does not follow the rule of “pay according to the hour”. God is a God who wants us to love our enemies (see Mt.5/44-45). This is a contradiction to the practice in the Old Testament. It is also a contradiction to the usual reaction of a person hurt by someone else. Are we not surprised by the call to love those who make us suffer and miserable? Yet this God who tells us to forgive is the one who does it.
8. This God is the God who has sent Jesus. Let us look at this.
God, the Father of Men and Women
9. When Jesus speaks, the place of God the Father has a very high value. He is God who is so related with the human person. Jesus invites his disciples to pray by calling God “Our Father” (see Mt.6 Lk11/2). Jesus speaks to his disciples by saying that “Your Father is in heaven” (Mt.5/45 Lk.6/36 & 11/13). Thus , presented through the disciples of Jesus, there is a relationship of father-child between God and the human person.
10. The paternity of God is also expressed in parables that show the relationship of father and son. The famous one is that of the so-called “parable of the prodigal son”. The younger son leaves and spends all his money in waste. Repenting, he returns to his father. His father blows a big feast. The elder son who thinks he remains faithful is disappointed. He is, in fact, always welcome to the feast. Jesus makes use of the parable to give explanation for his attitude of willing to mix with sinners. Jesus is like saying, “I do with sinners what God does with them, and it scandalizes others”.
11. There is also another parable involving two sons and a father. The father asks them to work. The first one says “yes” but does not go to work, and the second one says “no” but goes anyway. The parable is an invitation to conversion.
12. These parables show the paternal relationship of God with people in the course of the history of salvation. They are, in fact, in the line of the insights of the Old Testament. They make more concrete those insights.
13. Jesus is sent by God to show men and women about the true love of God who is Father to them.
God, the Father of Jesus
14. Jesus claims a very unique relationship with God by calling him a “my Father”. This is more than the adoption we have with God. Look at one statement that Jesus makes. “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people. Yes, Father, this is what pleased you. My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one knows the Son except the Father. No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt.11/25-27). The statement reveals how Jesus relates to God. It is such a direct and intimate relationship. It reveals how Jesus is so familiar with God. We see here the “behavior of a son” to his father. As the saying goes, “like father, like son”. The father and the son know each other so well. It is such an intimacy that others do not share. This is why Jesus could say, “My Father and your Father” (Jn.20/17) to imply that his relationship with the Father is so different from our relationship with him.
15. Jesus calls his Father “Abba”—“papa”. At the time of agony before the crucifixion Jesus says to his Father, “Papa, everything is possible for you, take this cup away” (Mk.14/36). This way of calling God is extremely strange and new. The call “Abba” is the typical way by Jesus talks to his Father. Within the world of Judaism, Jesus is the only one who dares call God as “Abba”, showing how intimate he is with the Father.
16. All this would not make sense without the attitude of Jesus towards his Father. Jesus takes the attitude of Son towards his father. Jesus shows to us who the Father is by showing us how to be son to the Father. Jesus loves in full communion with his Father. His prayer is a breathing of a son. He loves the Father and he is willing to obey the Father in his mission all the way. He obeys not as a fearing slave but as a beloved child.
God, the Father of the Crucified
17. The mission of Jesus leads him to the cross. At the end of the route of the mission, God becomes the Father of the crucified. This is a mystery. Jesus reaches a point when he complains with a cry that his Father abandons him. Yet, his attitude as a child does not lie. In his manner of dying, Jesus shows to us how far the power of God reaches. The almighty God in the Old Testament becomes the powerless God in the New Testament. God, in the life of Jesus, is not “paternalistic”. Jesus is not a victim of paternalism. Jesus simply accomplishes his mission received from the Father. This attitude of a son to the father is so clear in Jesus, it is an attitude he brings with him all the way to the cross.
18. The notion of “Father” here takes a new meaning. Through the attitude of Jesus as Son to the Father, we discover that to see Jesus is to see the Father! “Philip asked him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that is enough’. Jesus said to him, ‘…Philip, whoever sees me sees the Father” (Jn.14/8-9). “Like father, like son”, as the expression goes. What Jesus reveals is the humanity of God. God turns our to be the powerless one. As one Protestant Theologian (J. Moltmann) would say, God is Crucified.
19. “Who is this God for us to be his love, child of the earth? Who is this God who ties himself with love to be our equal? Who is this God who must find the heart of the poor? Who is this God, destitute, great, vulnerable? Who is this God, who comes to our side and walks with us? Who is this God whose heart never fades at our table? Who is this God who nobody can love if he does not love us? Who is this God who we hurt so much whenever we hurt our fellows? Who is this God for us to be his love?” (J. Servel)
Jesus Christ, the Summit of Christian Revelation
From Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
Our desire for the Absolute
1. A document of Vatican II gives us a picture of what revelation means. The document says that out of his goodness God really wanted to make himself known. He wanted us to know about his plan for us. In this plan God wanted us to have access to him through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Through his revelation, the invisible God speaks us like friends. He speaks to us to invite us to a life of communion with him. He speaks to us; he tells us that he receives us in this communion (see Dei Verbum 2).
2. The big concern of God, therefore, is to communicate himself to us, to offer himself personally in view of having a communion. He wants us to share in his life. This is God’s own free initiative. He comes to us like a friend—like God with Moses in Sinai (see Ex.33/11) and like Jesus calling his disciples “friends” (see Jn.15/14-15). God invites us to meet him, “Come and see” (Jn.1/39). When we meet it will be like friends talking and conversing. It is a dialogue with God.
3. The New Testament gives us a picture of the communion between God and us, humans. “We were given the most extraordinary promises. Through them you share in the divine nature” (“Pet.1/3-4). In this letter of St. Peter we are told that in entering in communion with God we shall be sharing his divinity. It may be misunderstood, but we might rephrase this as: we will be divine too! Careful. This does not mean that we become less human as we turn divine. On the contrary, the more we are made to share in the divine, the more we are human. How does this happen? The answer lies in our desires.
4. Our desires tend to go “non stop”. We want “more”. Not only do we want to “have more”, we also want to “be more”. Not only does a person want to have more reputation, he or she might want to be more of a…politician or religious, maybe. This force of desire can make us great artists, scientists, priests, brothers, nuns, etc. We are finite creatures but our desires tend to go “infinite”. When a desire goes infinite, it can mean that it goes on indefinitely. Desire is here never satisfied. Or it can go to the absolute. When a desire moves to the absolute it moves to a certain freedom. It settles down and finds satisfaction. The absolute is God. As St. Augustine would say, “You have made us for you oh Lord, our heart is without rest until it finds rest in you”.
5. Our desires find rest only in God. We are inhabited by the desire for God himself. We cannot be fulfilled without God. The more we encounter him, the more we become who we really are; the more we fulfill our vocation as humans. The more we enter into communion with God—this is our “divinization”—the more truly human we become—this is our “humanization”.
6. The love of God wants this to happen. It is a love that wants to share. God wants to share his life with us. God wants to confer with us all his nobility. He wants to share with us his joy and happiness. How can this happen? The answer lies in Jesus Christ. Christ is the mediator and the fullness of the revelation of God. He is the mediator because he is the revealer. Through him God reveals his message. Yet Jesus is also the content of God’s message. The good news is the person of Jesus Christ! He is therefore the fullness of the revelation. He is the definite revelation of God. He is the summit of that revelation.
Revelation in Nature and in our Hearts
7. Of course we can have a revelation of God from the created universe. “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord, the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day talks it over with day, night transmits the knowledge to night. No speech, no words, no voice is heard, but it resonates throughout the universe, the message is felt to the ends of the earth” (Ps.19/2-5). The psalmist seems to say that the universe is “saying something”—declaring, proclaiming, talking, and transmitting. Yet it is not with words and with a voice. Rather there is this message which is felt everywhere. There is “Someone” behind the existence of the things of the world. This “Someone” is God.
8. God wants to communicate with us, and he does this through the presence of a created world. St. Paul explains this when he writes, “Everything that could have been known about God was made clear. God himself made it plain. Though we cannot see him, we can at least discover him through his works; for he created the world and through his works we understand him to be the eternal and all powerful and to be God” (Rom.1/19-20). This revelation is permanent. It applies to everyone at any given time. It is a “language” inscribed within creation. Traditionally this revelation is called “natural revelation”.
9. God also reveals within the human heart—within human conscience. This revelation helps open the path of vocation. This other form of revelation is traditionally called “supernatural revelation”. God speaks in the human heart and God offers the gifts necessary for the human person to accomplish his/her vocation, which is to be happy living in communion with God.
10. Sure, we are “fallen” and we are “sinners”. But God does not give up his initiative to maintain us in the hope of redemption. God takes care of the human being “without interruption”. God wants to give eternal life to anyone who seeks for him. St. Paul would say, He will give eternal life to whoever seeks glory, honor and immortality through perseverance in good works” (Rom.2/7). Always God wants everyone to be saved and have knowledge of the truth (see 1Tim.2/4), God neglects nobody. Everyone can know God sufficiently. This holds for everyone—including those who have never been linked to Abraham and the history of the Hebrews and Christians.
11. This “supernatural revelation” is “written in the heart” of each and every human being (see Rom.2/15). The main guide of everyone, even of those who do not know Christ, is the light of conscience. In the heart of every person is a “command”. It is not just feeling nor opinion. It is not just impression. “It is a law. It is a voice that speaks with authority” (H. Newman). We can disobey this voice but it stays.
Revelation through history
12. In Christian faith, God is not simply “beyond” and “out there” as “Someone” behind the created universe. God is also not just within the heart of everyone. In the Christian perspective, “God has spoken in the past to our fathers through the prophets, in many different ways, although never completely; now in our times he has spoken definitively to us through his Son” (Heb.1/1-2). Here the author of the letter to the Hebrews implies that God has made himself known. He made himself know within history—the history starting with Abraham through Moses and the prophets. God has made himself known definitively in Jesus Christ.
13. We can fully appreciate God’s revelation in the past—in the OT—in the light of Christ. All that happened, like from the time of Moses and the prophets, are already moving towards Christ. The fullness of Revelation took step-by-step realization with the OT. And so in Christ and in the texts of the NT we can already detect the OT. God took his own time to reveal himself. The revelation from the Old testament to the New testament in Christ is viewed as a long process of “preparation”. God sets aside a people; God elects them. The election is not a matter of privilege but of mission. To the people of Israel has been given a mission to make God known to all the nations. The people are then slowly prepared.
14. This history moving up to the first century Palestine points to Christ. One thing needs to be emphasized. God reveals himself through human culture, language and tradition. His message does not just fall from the sky. It comes through the historical growth of a people with its culture, language and tradition. When God gives a message there is always a mediation. It was, before the mediation of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. It was the mediation of Biblical authors. Without such mediation, God will never be understood.
The Summit is Jesus Christ
15. After many “mediators” of God’s word in the Old Testament, revelation finds it summit in Jesus Christ. The word is now the Son of God. In the gospel account of St. John, especially in the prologue, we read that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; we have seen his glory” (Jn.1/14). The message of God is now not just a teaching or a program. It is not a catalogue of lessons. It is a person—Jesus Christ. In the life and death of Jesus we see God. We see the Kingdom and the path to communion with God. Thus Jesus is the definite and unique mediator between us and God (see 1Tim.2/5) because in him God makes himself absolutely and definitely known. In the Old testament the revelation took a process of time and there were still a lot of things hidden. But in Jesus Christ what remained unknown about God has been communicated to us. Revelation finds its definite conclusion in the revelation through Christ. This really is the fullness of Revelation.
16. Of course there are lessons and teachings in Christianity. But these are secondary. The primary revelation is a person—Jesus Christ. The Christian is called principally to assent in faith to the person of Jesus Christ. But Jesus came before this invitation to believe. He offered his life to us, and so we are called to have faith in him. In Jesus we find our true happiness because to see him is to see God. “Who sees me sees the Father” (Jn.14/9). In Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn.14/6) is the Absolute, the satisfaction of our deepest desire.
17. Then there is, of course, the Church. The Church has received the definite revelation. The Church also announces it. The truth of God’s self-communication exists permanently inside the Church. We would like to understand well what God has said in Jesus Christ, the Word, because what God has said involves our salvation.
18. God’s revelation is definite in Jesus Christ. God does not say, “Ooops, I made a mistake, I will start revealing something else and send someone else”. This revelation is permanent in the Church. We are members of the Church. The Church preserves God’s revelation and interprets it with constant reference to the Bible.
Jesus Christ, God Who Comes Near
Marcel Domergue S.J.
A return to the Gospel
1. Christians are accused of pretending to know the truth. They are accused of their dogmatism. The Gospel is not, however, a series of answers. It is rather the “good news” about an encounter between God and the human person, and an encounter among human persons. Let us return to the Gospel.
2. Why is the gospel story—and the Christian faith in general—so unacceptable to some very serious and responsible people? This rejection is an unhappy result of what happened in history. Many Christians have given the name of Christ “anti-gospel” meanings. So things have emerged, like authoritarianism, pretension to monopolize knowledge of the truth, exclusivism, etc. Christianity has become known for these.
3. This is a challenge for us. Maybe we need to return to the basics. Let us start all over again. Let us return to the Gospel and see its state of birth before the complications of history and culture arose. This is not the way of receiving from fixed tradition imposed on us and has become obligatory to our faith.
4. Where do we find the Good News in its birth form? The quick answer may be to read the New Testament and read about the words of Jesus. Maybe we can look at how Jesus behaved and see how we can do the same. This looks ok. But the four gospels are really about the birth of the Good News in a culture of long ago. They may tell us about the Good News and how it took place at that time. But they might not tell us much about how it can take place in our world today.
5. Of course the stories there give words and images that transmit an original experience. But this is secondary. We can even study the culture behind the written texts and see what the texts mean. The Good News, however, is really underneath the written texts. If Jesus came today he would not be saying the same words nor will he be doing the same gestures.
6. The Good News is, first of all, about an encounter. The Good News is born in a world where there are persons who risk showing who they really are. The Good News is born when there are persons who overcome their antagonisms and they try to live in harmony with each other. It is not a harmony against other people, like that we see in political and international pacts. Rather it is harmony “for”. It is a harmony that can spread throughout and be shared so that finally we can truly understand each other. It is a humble birth. But it is serious. The Good News produces itself, like when electrodes touch and an electric spark arises. The Good News is the way persons come near each other and reconcile.
7. The Good News is not a series of “questions and answers”. It is mutual presence; it is encounter. It is impossible to fully estimate and predict what will arise from this encounter. The gospel texts are stories of an encounter. Someone, a man named Jesus, was encountered. It happened over 2,000 years ago in the 1st century of Palestine. It is an encounter so meaningful and so fundamental—it is an encounter between God and humanity. It has become the source of encounter among persons.
8. Who is Jesus? To answer this, let us first say who he is not. So, who is he not? Jesus is someone who does not have obstacles in encountering others.
9. Jesus of Nazareth is not a “personal institution”. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read, “If he were here, he would not be a priest” (8/4). Jesus did not carry anything institutional in him. The Letter to the Hebrews continues to say that what priests do is only an imitation—a “shadow and copy”—of what is real.
10. Jesus is here and now, today. How? If he comes visibly, will he be sitting on a throne? Will he be sitting on an Episcopal throne? Perhaps we will find him, instead, in a poor neighborhood telling the voiceless and the marginalized, “the kingdom is in your midst”. He would be telling them how wonderful it is to welcome the kingdom.
11. The Kingdom? Let us keep in mind that it is about the life of harmony and mutual understanding. Jesus would not be part of the club of Pharisees. No, he would not be member of such. He would be a “free-lancer” and we would not be able to classify him.
12. Jesus is the figure of an Absolute Liberty. In the gospels we read about people who wonder, “Who is he?” We read that he would be speaking. But he would not be speaking like giving a professional speech—like the speech of a lawyer. Jesus would not place his words under the authority of others—as professionals would. He would speak under the authority in himself. “Come and see”. What speaks in Jesus is what gives witness to him. There are his “works” which are the works of God—they are works of Love. Jesus does not hide behind authorities to authenticate his message. He refers to scriptures, and he does this to absorb the scriptures. But instead of looking at the scriptures to see how he can justify his words and actions, he would instead say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4/21).
13. Jesus presents himself with such freedom towards everyone. He is the beginning—the beginning from where emerges a new way of being human. Jesus is so free he does not put in chains the freedom of those who listen to him. He does not say, “You should believe in this or that”. Instead he says, “Believe in me, believe in God”. He does not say, “Believe that God exists”. Rather he would say, “Lose yourself in God and follow me”. Everything depends on the freedom of whoever listens to him: “if you want…if you want”. He proposes…and he does not propose a system of truths. In the case of Jesus, he proposes his very own self—his very own person. “The truth? It is me”.
Expel the forces of division.
14. If truth is a person, it is not enough to have convictions. We cannot enclose a person in a box or on a prison of concepts. There is one episode in Luke and Mark that is curious. It is given in Lk.9/49-50 and in Mk.9/38-40. We read that the disciples try to stop someone expelling demons in the name of Jesus. Why? Because that person is not a member of the group of disciples. Jesus disapproves. “Do not stop him,” he says, “who is not against us is with us”. This statement actually can go very far. Jesus invites us to build a world where everyone is “with”. Whoever refuses to be “against” and whoever expels the forces of division is already “with”. This “with” concerns all human and it cannot have exclusion in the name of Jesus.
Jesus and Resurrection
Marcel Domergue S.J.
1. To believe in God does not immediately make a person Christian. St. Paul clarifies this. For him to be “without God in the world” is at the same time to be “without Christ” (see Eph.2/12). If we do not have God “in the world” there is no point in believing in a God “out there” and “out of the world”. St. Paul sees that the God “in the world” has something to do with the resurrection. Faith, for St. Paul, is faith in the resurrection of Christ. If Jesus had not risen, God would not have come in the world. If God did not come in the world, everything is useless and senseless.
2. For St. Paul, a believer is someone who has faith in the God who has risen Jesus from the dead. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty; you are still in your sins” (1Cor.15/17). God who does not reveal as God with us in the world is not an important God. We can ignore him and go on hopelessly in life.
3. The resurrection is the standard of faith and it is proof of faith. Instead of comforting the disciples, the resurrection challenged them. They were challenged to either show themselves as believers or to be unbelievers.
4. When St. Paul was talking to some Greeks, he was interesting to them. He spoke of God in whom “we live and move and have being” (Act.17/28). The Greeks would feel secure in this type of thinking. But when St. Paul started talking about the resurrection, the Greeks left him. They could not see themselves listening to what he had to say. What does this tell us? When we talk about the resurrection, we cannot cheat ourselves. Either we proclaim for or against God who overcomes death. We cannot “water down” our faith. If we do so, then we are no longer faithful to the reality of the resurrection.
5. Faith tells us that Jesus is risen from the dead. What about those who came before Jesus? Abraham, for example, lived centuries before. Yet he is recognized as “father of faith”. Could he have had faith without believing in the resurrection? In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that Abraham was so ready to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham reasoned “that God was already able to raise from the dead” (Heb.11/19).
6. The reality and faith in the resurrection had been in the ancient times of the Old Testament—but in a hidden way. The resurrection was already there hidden since the origin of the world. The Christ extended his hands at the hour of his passion to destroy death and to allow the resurrection to show. The resurrection was real but not yet revealed. St. Paul himself wrote, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither Christ has been raised” (1Cor.15/13). St. Paul assumed that there was the resurrection before Christ.
7. The resurrection is a reality that affects us all and it is revealed in Christ. Jesus himself had said, “Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living” (Mat.22/31-32).
8. In calling God as “the God of the living” Jesus corrected the image people had of God. In fact, he dropped that image altogether. We can return to Genesis 3 where we see the serpent promoting doubt about God. The serpent was showing that God was selfish and did not want our lives. In front of the sight of death the human being started to believe in it. Thus the human person really died—giving hope and happiness. The human being defied God. The human being doubted the source of life. That defiance started to affect human life too.
9. Let us put it this way. Someone gives me a wonderful gift. I say, “This is too good to be true, there must be a trap here”. The human being was given the gift of life and the gift of happiness. It was too good to be true, the human being started to suspect God. Thus started the fear of life and the fear of God’s love.
10. The resurrection of Jesus confronted the doubt promoted in Genesis 3. The resurrection of Jesus is the last statement of God about God. All that happens after is a deployment of the resurrection. God is now revealed as the God who gives himself. He entered our death to condemn death and to denounce the influence of death in our lives.
11. The resurrection is revealed in Christ. Here is our hope even if we have not quite experienced actual death and rising again. Let us see what the gospel accounts can say. They might help us.
12. The main image given by the gospel accounts is the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene thought someone took away the body of Jesus (see Jn.20/11-18). The tomb was empty but it was not proof that Jesus had risen. We can still say that someone took the body away. The empty tomb is an invitation to faith. it can signify that Jesus had indeed risen. The empty tomb also tells us that death could not take hold of Jesus. Jesus did not corrupt. “Why do you seek among the dead he who is alive?” Death has been deprived of its fruit.
13. The stone covering the tomb was rolled away. An “exodus” has taken place. It was the exodus of going out of death and darkness. The resurrection can be like a re-birth. “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has not yet arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world” (Jn.16/21). Israel left Egypt, the people left slavery. It was a moving out of death. A nation was then born. Then God was recognized as the God of liberty.
14. Jesus disappeared when he resurrected. It was not possible to locate him and say, “He is here” or “he is there”. Before his death he would disappear—to go for prayer. Then the disciples would seek him and find him. Now, after the resurrection, Jesus could not be simply within reach. He is not anymore of this world. Of course he is still embodied, but his body is glorified. He could not be easily recognized. Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener (see Jn.20/11-18). In Luke he was mistaken for a ghost (see Lk.24/37). What do these accounts tell us? Jesus is present and absent. This is his way of being with his disciples. Never, however, is he without body. “Look at my hands and feet, that is I myself. Touch and see me, because a ghost does not have flesh and bines as you can see I have.” As he said this he showed them his hands and his feet” (lk.24/39-40).
15. So we believe in the “resurrection of the body”, as we pray in our creed. Jesus completely passed through death and he completely re-took life. That too is our destiny. We believe.
A Discussion about the Biblical Inspiration
From Marcel Domergue S.J. and Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
1. We might want to look at the meaning of Creation. Creation is not an event that happened only once. It is on-going. We are still in the process of Creation. We are still in the process of fulfilling ourselves, moving to our becoming fully human. Creation is on-going in our history, both social and personal. We go through the ups and downs of life—becoming more and more images of God. The Bible is part of our process. It is integrated to our growth as humans. In a way we can say that the Bible is part of our creation. It is very much part of our path to our fulfillment.
2. The Bible is also a “story”. The entire Bible is a result of a “mobilization” of many authors. The entire Bible is a “great story”. It is the great story of human fulfillment. It is a great story of God teaching the human being how to overcome the different ways of becoming “inhuman” and how to become “child of God”. The great story therefore moves to Christ who is the last and definite Word of the story. The great story leads us to see how the human person becomes conformed to Christ.
3. How do we interpret the notion of “inspiration”? How can we say that the Bible is inspired? One way of replying is by seeing the great story of the Bible as the route of God’s plan for humanity. Each part of the Bible reveals the path of this plan—and the path is human striding towards Christ. Each part of the Bible also reveals human deception and how the human person is called to be free from it. Liberty is found in Christ. Each part of the entire Bible is therefore “inspired” in the sense that it points to the route towards Christ.
4. The Bible is inspired when we see it as a result of the Covenant between God and the human being. It is a common work between God and human authors. We might be used to think that the Bible is “Word of God”. But we should not forget that those who wrote the books contained in it were human authors (see Dei Verbum 3). Human authors wrote with their own temperaments, cultures, linguistic styles, literary skills, states of mind, etc. The human authors wrote about their experiences of God within their lives. Human authors recorded God entry into history.
1. We can rely on the created universe and our own hearts to discover the revelation of God. But we cannot deny that God’s revelation has passed thorough history too. It was the history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament and the history of the coming of Jesus Christ. God really intervened in history and he has definitely historically revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s revelation passed through the inner lives or conscience of people—like Abraham, Moses and the prophets. It also passed through the inner lives of the Biblical authors. People encountered God and they responded through their actions and, for some, through their writing down the encounter. People articulated, in their own culture and language, their experiences of God.
2. God “in-forms” people and people express that “in-formation”. Revelation is not something that falls from the sky. The Bible is not a “dictated” book which human authors jotted down. The Bible is mediated. What the mediators (the authors) wrote was the object of their faith. An illustration from the New Testament can help us understand what happened to the authors. Consider the confession of Peter. What do we read? Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” On behalf of everyone Peter gives the response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. How does Jesus react to this? He says that it is not by human invention that Peter is able to give his confession. It is “by my Father who is in heaven” (see Mt.16/13-20). What do we see in this? Jesus is saying that God makes the confession of Peter possible. God has revealed the truth to Peter and Peter, in his faith, makes the confession. Peter’s confession is a result of “inspiration”. Peter was “inspired”.
3. In the same way, Biblical authors were “inspired”. Then they wrote, using their talents, skills, language and cultural concepts. In their own human capacities, they mediated the message of God by putting it in writing. God entered and revealed within human history and that revelation was recorded as Biblical texts. We said, above, that the summit of revelation is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. God’s revelation passes through the words and deeds of Jesus. The story about Jesus, including the experience of seeing him risen from the dead, became the “material” of the Gospel authors. They received the definite revelation of God and in their faith they put down the experience in writing. They were “inspired” to write.
4. The authors were not interested in writing a historical account of God, not in the modern sense of history. They did not hesitate to write with fantastic images. The truth that they wrote went beyond the exactitude of events. Of course “something happened”. Of course events took place. If we read the Gospels we cannot deny that the authors were going back to real historical events of Jesus. But the written texts were interpretations of the events. So when we say that St. Mark wrote about Jesus, we mean “the gospel according to Mark”. The point is, there was an experience of God and this experience found its way into written texts.
5. This allows us to do scientific work on the Bible. There are many fields in Biblical study—like historical criticism, form criticism, structuralism, semiotics, archaeology etc. They are quite scientific. They do not destroy confidence in the Bible. In fact, scientific work can help us see better what the human authors might have wanted to say. They can help us deepen our understanding of the meaning that human authors have given to their writings.
6. The Bible is not God’s work alone. It is the result of the “face-to-face” relationship between God and human authors. It is a kind of “covenant” between God and the writers. The Bible is a result of encounters between God and the authors. Then it was expressed in written texts. God inspired authors to write, just as he inspired Peter to confess that Jesus is Christ. This is what our Christianity tells us. The human authors, such as the Gospel authors, wrote using their concepts and categories. They used their own language, talents and resources. They took materials from the community they lived in. They recorded the memories of those who knew Jesus. What they wrote then became part of the community.
7. The Bible is also a community work. The community decides which books shall be considered “inspired”. In theological language this is called “canon”. Canon means “rule”. The community decides which book is “canonical”—that which is accepted as inspired and guide for the community.
8. Christianity is not a “religion of the book”, as some would say. It is a religion of the community. The community has been provided with the Bible, yes. The Bible guides the community. But the Bible is also what the community gives to itself. The Bible emerges out of the “canonical” choice of the community. The Bible forms the community just as it is molded by the community.
9. Let us focus on the Gospel stories. Jesus did not write anything. What he left behind was a community of disciples to whom he gave his teachings and to whom he showed his way of living. The community then gave itself the written texts. In those texts the community recognized its faith. The written texts were expressions of their faith.
10. In a way we can say that the Bible lets God speak! The Bible lets Jesus speak! As a community we recognize our faith in the Bible. When we enter into studying and praying the Bible we recognize how God speaks in and through it.
11. We need to say a word about reading the Bible as Christians. When we read the Bible we will notice how one passage opens up to many other passages. Just look at the Bible you use. Notice the notes and the passages recommended in margins. Take the example of the 40-day Temptation of Christ in the desert. The number 40 tells us about the 40 years of the Hebrews in the desert. The hungry Jesus was tempted to doubt the word of God. Yet Jesus did not give up. The author wanted to tell us that although Israel failed in confidence toward God, Jesus kept that confidence. The temptation in the desert also refers to the future—to the Passion of Jesus. In the Passion story Jesus refused to employ power and might. Already the Temptation in the desert “previewed” it. So reading the Bible opens up to a lot of references and cross references. For us Christians reading the Bible, the references and cross reference should find their center in Christ. The Old Testament is read beginning with Christ. Christ is the key.
12. In fact the New testament authors were following the same path. Seeing Jesus they looked back at the Old testament. They “retrospected” and saw in the Old Testament references to Christ. We do not begin with the Old Testament and see the New testament as resulting from it. This is not how we, Christians read the Old Testament. Christ is the key, and starting from him we move to the Old Testament.
The Trinity? It is Complicated
Marcel Domergue S.J.
1. We are familiar with God as Father and as Son. Why must there be a third person? Why must there be the Holy Spirit? It is hard to figure this one out. One God and Three Persons…what does this mean?
2. It is an error to say that we supplement our lives when we relate with Nature and with other people. It is like saying that “first” we exist and “then” we enter into relationships. In fact, when we eat and breathe we take from what come from outside. Food and air are brought to us. We cannot say that “first” we eat and breathe, and “then” we supplement these with food and air.
3. What about ideas and tastes, information and interests? They come also from somewhere else: our parents, friends, teachers, etc. We are “crossroads” or “meeting points” of so many currents of events and situations. Many things happen and each of us are meeting points of these. To exist is, at the same time to be in relationship. We cannot say that “first” we exist and “then” we enter into relationships. Look at our birth. It is a result of the relationship between a man and a woman. We start the development of our humanity with our parents, and then slowly we meet others and we grow and develop.
4. Although each of us is unique, we depend on others and we are inter-connected with others. Our faith tells us that the reason for this is because we are created in the image and likeness of God whose basic “substance” is relationship and inter-connection.
No Two without Three
5. As ancient as the 13th century, Saint Thomas Aquinas was already saying that the Three persons in God form a “subsisting relationship”. Sounds abstract? What the saint was saying is that the basis of existence of Father, Son and Spirit is relationship. The Father cannot be Father without Son. Son cannot be Son without Father. The Spirit links both of them.
6. Where do these ideas come from? Also, why do we have to speak of Three, why not just Two? Why add the Spirit in the picture? Well, we rely on the Holy Scriptures—the Bible. And the Bible tells us that the Three are involved in “mission” or in “sending”. We read that Jesus, in the Bible, speaks of “he who the Father sends” or “another defender, the Paraclete” or “the power from above”.
7. The Bible tells us that the Father sends the Son. The Father and the Son send the Spirit. So we have an idea of who God is. There is a lot of “sending” involved.
8. The New Testament talks a lot about the Three. Among many accounts, the baptism accounts express the presence of the Three. Two cannot express the perfection of love. If there are just Two, then there is a narcissistic face-to-face relationship. It is necessary to open up to the Third.
9. Theology, based on the Bible, tells us that the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son. Also the Spirit is, at times, creator too. The Spirit is presented as the movement of the Father to the Son, the Son to the Father. Thanks to the Spirit, one moves to the other. If, for us, we get confused thinking of the Spirit, it is because the Spirit is also in us. The Spirit is God in us.
10. Father, Son and Spirit are all found in the Bible. We might easily relate to the Father and Son because their relationship resembles our experiences of fatherhood and son-hood. But actually there is also a big difference. Saint Denys would propose that we consider God’s Fatherhood in three ways. a. God is, indeed, Father. b. But God is also not Father in the human way. c. God is Father in an “eminent” or “superior” way.
God is life, sharing, movement
11. When we think of Father or even Son we might have images of bearded men. What about the Spirit? We might think of breath, wind, dove, tongue of fire, oil, etc. It is not easy—not as easy as when we think of men with long beards. Let us say that Spirit is the figure of God-in-movement. God moves towards becoming human and moves towards death on the cross. We are also put on the move when we receive the Spirit. We move in the Paschal life. Through the Spirit God is within us. We are moved by the Spirit.
12. But why speak of “persons”? Why say Three “persons”? This might lead to a misunderstanding that there are three gods. No. The term “Three Persons in One God” must help us see that God is not about three functions or that there are three viewpoints about God. No. God is actually relationship—sharing. St. Ignatius of Antioch would say that God, rather than “One”, is “Union” (Letter to Tralliens X,1). In other words, the “substance” of God is love and life—it is relationship and sharing.
13. We need to make more precision with the word “person” here. Person takes place only when there is relationship—when there is link and union with others. The Trinity is Unity. We have become images and likeness of this—we exist only in this way, as relationship. This explains why life is given the basic command—the command of all commands: love. Love unites without destroying uniqueness. In fact, love magnifies each of us.
 Feminists today might react to this and say that this image of Father is too sexist. God is also Mother, for the feminists. We must respect this position too. But at this point we need to be clear that Jesus called his Father “Abba”. His revelation about God is Father, therefore “masculine”. Yet, to avoid confrontation, we can also say that the characteristic of God as merciful has feminine and maternal features. The Hebrew word for God’s “mercy” is the uterus, which is very feminine.
 If today we call God “Abba”—as in Our Father—this is thanks to Jesus teaching us to call God as “Abba”.
 We can learn a lot from this be “reviewing” our own obedience to God. Are we obeying God because we are afraid of him or because we see ourselves as his children?
 We take inspiration also from Karl Rahner S.J.
 Let us give an example. When we read Isaiah we might think that already the prophet was talking about the coming of Jesus himself. When Isaiah mentioned “the virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall name him Immanuel” (Is.7/14) he was actually thinking of the King Hezekiah. But New Testament thinking re-reads that and applies it to Jesus Christ. New Testament would “retrospect” and make use of Hebrew concepts and tradition to understand the presence of Jesus Christ.