Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Books of 2007 - Christology

In his Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism, Fr. Fergus Kerr, O.P. begins with a short discussion of Karl Adam and Romano Guardini, two prominent (orthodox) non-scholastics working at the beginning of the last century. Guardini is someone who has long intrigued me, but life being short, I have not read much of his work. After several of my travels this summer, I was home feeling a bit worn down. A brother suggested that I read something in Christology as a remedy, and to my great pleasure I discovered on our library shelves Guardini's The Humanity of Christ.

The Catholic Church was famously slow to engage trends in historical-critical method applied to Holy Scripture, and there were many good reasons for this on a human level, even prescinding from what we take to be the help of the Holy Spirit in these matters. Guardini, without quite saying so, takes on the 'Quest for the Historical Jesus' in this little (out-of-print) book. Yet the fact that he is not a neo-scholastic helps him to address the topic precisely where it needed to be engaged: on the level of Scriptural testimony. One imagines 'official' theologians trotting out arguments from Aristotelian metaphysics and timeless (therefore true) doctrines that would pay respect to the gospels but only as proof-texts. Guardini speaks right out of the midst of the Jesus of Nazareth walking the pages of anyone's Bible.

A secondary target in Guardini's sights are the psychologists allied to the religious phenomenologists (William James, etc). He asks questions, ones that surely appeared daring for a Catholic in 1963, such as "Was Jesus a religious genius?" Then he looks at 'types' usually produced as displays of such genius. He then looks at what our Lord did in the gospels. What Guardini is able to show, at least to my satisfaction, is that while the man who 'goes about doing good' in the New Testament is undoubtedly a man and not some spectral projection of the spirit world, He transcends all categories of men and women. G suggests that He does this precisely be being 'more human' than what most of us achieve in life.

Such an observation is based deeply in the Patristic (and therefore Graeco-Roman) view of the human person as striving, by the acquisition of virtue, to become freer and freer, more authentically human and alive. It is interesting to note that Guardini had recently finished his book on the virtues when he embarked on The Humanity of Christ (The Virtues has received a good commentary on Sr. Edith's blog recently).

What I took from this book was perhaps not what was meant to be its focus, but certainly addressed the weary administrator in me at the time. Jesus Christ is more than simply a model for human behavior. He is God-made-human. He is more than a friend in time of need, He is my Lord Whom I adore. Guardini brings home this tenet of the Faith without the aid of any metaphysics whatsoever--quite an accomplishment! He sets it in a liturgical, Biblical, Patristic world that speaks to the monk underneath the religious superior.

While I appreciate certain aspects of the 'What Would Jesus Do?' idea, sometimes it is thrown at Christians, especially those laboring under the burden of authority, as a way of demonstrating the Christian's supposed hypocrisy: "Well, that wasn't very Christ-like (or, tellingly, 'Jesus-like')!" Then any any felt need for treating the conveniently identified Pharisee with respect is supposedly nullified. "I don't have to obey that bishop because ..." Yes, Christians bear a weighty responsibility to bring Christ to birth and make Him visible in the world. Guardini reminds us that we can't do this simply by imitation: what is also required is praise, glory, adoration of the One Who is like us in all things but sin, but is also "My Lord and My God."

1 comment:

Mr. Potato said...

Some random thoughts in reply to your writing: "What Guardini is able to show....is that while the man who 'goes about doing good' in the New Testament is undoubtedly a man and not some spectral projection of the spirit world, He transcends all categories of men and women."

I would have liked to host a dinner with Guardini, Freud and Jung. There I would ask Freud why he is so ashamed of being Jewish and Jung if his archetypes are nothing more than a distortion or recapitulation of Plato's world of pure forms.

I recommend Jesus of Nazareth by the Holy Father. In it Pope Benedict XVI develops beautifully the idea of Jesus as an historical figure who transcends history. I think that the Holy Father sees a correct interpretation of Plato as the antidote to some of the great errors of Freud, Jung and Marx.

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