ebook img

Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid To Be Partners PDF

52 Pages·2012·0.76 MB·English
Save to my drive
Quick download

Preview Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid To Be Partners

1 Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid To Be Partners (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006) by William Thompson-Uberuaga CHAPTER THREE —supplements— (1) eschatology and geography; (2) christology and the creeds, Alexandrines, Antiochenes, technical categories, western and Syriac traditions, the hypostatic union. Eschatology, Geography, and the Advancing Jesus Movement It will be useful to return to the theme of time and space, which we noted in our second chapter on the New Testament materials. We recall that the orientation to the divine Ground transforms temporality into history, and space into place. At the same time, neither time nor space is simply “there” for humans to manipulate or use in an arbitrary fashion. In some sense, time remains time and not history, and space remains space and not simply place. Jesus and his movement exist within these complicated coordinates, as all humans do, and we noted something of the way in which the Jesus event revalorized each of these coordinates. Inasmuch as Jesus through and with his new community mediates a more personalized relationship with the divine Ground, history becomes even more fully packed with the promise of personal meaning and space becomes even more fully an hospitable home/place for the advancing Jesus movement. But the issue is really more complex, and returning to it offers us the possibility of 2 adding greater texture to the themes covered in this chapter. It will also likely bring greater ambiguity to our proposals. But such would seem to be the way of reality. Apocalyptic and Eschatology “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!,” some were apparently complaining at the time of Second Peter (3.4), one of the later New Testament writings. Earlier Paul himself had to contend with similar concerns, for he counsels his Thessalonian community “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here” (2 Thes 2.2). Apparently Paul’s considered view on this matter, after perhaps expecting the Lord’s return in his lifetime (1 Thes 4.17), settled into thinking that Christ and his earthly work represent the “first fruits,” to be followed by his later “coming” for “those who belong to him,” which will then be the signal that the “end” will come (1 Cor 15.23-24). One notices in this perspective the absence of any precise date (see also Mk 13.32; Mt 24.36). But the grumbling recorded by Second Peter indicates that not everyone had come around to Paul’s more considered viewpoint. The experience of Jesus, particularly in the light of the resurrection appearances and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, apparently gave some the impression that the victorious reign of God which Jesus had preached was now so “present” that its futurity was soon to be a thing of the past. It would take some time to sort things out in a more differentiated manner, and Paul’s considered view was a sober assessment immensely aiding this effort of differentiation. Paul, we might say, has eschatologized apocalyptic elements in the Jesus tradition. That is, some of the expected acts in the typical apocalyptic scenario (suffering, struggle, death, 3 resurrection, judgment, establishment of the victorious reign of God, etc.) are taken over by Paul, but assimilated into and thought through in the light of Jesus himself and his own resurrection vindication. Apocalyptic’s harsh dualism, which pits a new world against an utterly corrupt old one, the elect against the reprobate, is ameliorated to some extent, any precise time calculations are omitted, an anxiety stemming from a destructive alienation in the world is relaxed by a sense of faith, hope, and love, and responsible action in the world in an expectant manner is called for. Paul believes that what has come with Jesus is a fullness (Gal 4.4; Col 1.19; 2.9-10) which somehow prefigures the end/eschaton, but the manner in which this will be worked out within the constraints of history remains rather mysterious: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8.24-25). Paul also, at his most profound, has a sense of how the dualism of good and evil cuts across all, including himself. It is not a question of simply good people in an apocalyptic battle against utterly corrupt people. “For I do not do the good I would …”; the Spirit helps us in our weakness …” (Rom 7.19; 8.26). Paul is working with the already/not yet tension we noted earlier in Jesus’ proclamation of the new community. Eventually he seems to sense its qualitatively new dimension of fullness, that is, a new personalized relationship with God is “at hand.” But this personalism that is at hand does not abolish the already/not yet tension. Rather, it transforms it into a potential kairos. Some others, in the early period of the advancing Jesus movement, seem to have lost, or nearly lost, all traces of this tension. Paul also seems to have become keenly attuned to the kenotic nature of the reign of God mediated by Jesus, that is, it comes humbly, in 4 a servant mode, appealing to our response, slow as that may be in coming. This reign is not another of the many empires of domination. Jesus, Paul wrote, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave . . . he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2.7-8). We recall the imperial style of Christology and soteriology developed by Eusebius (d. c. 340). We will not be surprised, then, to find that this carries its implications for the theology of history. Referring to the Emperor Constantine’s building of the Savior’s church at the site of the resurrection in Jerusalem, Eusebius suggests: “And it may be that this was that second and new Jerusalem spoken of in the predictions of the prophets, concerning which such abundant testimony is given in the divinely inspired records.”1 Eusebius, apparently, has a rather complicated apocalyptic eschatology, in which Emperor Augustus’ Pax Romana was the kingdom of peace spoken of by the prophets (Is 2.1-4; Mic 4.1-4), and the Emperor Constantine and his heirs were “the holy ones of the Most High” (Dan 7.18) who would govern Rome, the fourth kingdom (Dan 2.31-45), up to the final tribulation, which would bring the world’s destruction and the last judgment. He followed Origen, apparently, in holding that immortality would be a form of life in a realm beyond the cosmos, but he was apocalyptic in his other perspectives. The final apocalyptic events just noted were to occur sometime between several generations and several centuries after his own life, according to Glenn Chesnut.2 Eusebius is representative of the earlier apocalypticism noted in Second Peter and in the early Paul, and he manifests its lingering appeal in the later Church. Irenaeus (second century) 1 Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, 3.33 (A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2d ser. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969], 1:529). The reference may be to Rev 21.2: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God …” (idem, n.1). 2 Glenn F. Chesnut, “Eusebius of Caesarea,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:675. 5 would offer another example, but a more cautious one. For example, he suggests that “Lateinos has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom [of the four seen by Daniel].” He goes on to say that “the Latins are they who at present bear rule …,” but he cautions: “I will not, however, make any boast over this [coincidence].” He also prefaced this entire section with the caution that “it is more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises …”3 Paula Fredriksen offers us one explanation of how these apocalyptic number calculations emerged. First, we should note the biblical tradition “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pt 3.8; Ps 90.4). If we combine this with the seven days of creation in Genesis 1 along with the thousand year reign of the saints promised in Revelation 20, we arrive at a 6000 year period (the six days of creation, each day viewed as a cosmic week/age of the world of a thousand years), followed by the millennium of a thousand year reign, which then brings on the final end. In one of his sermons, Augustine writes, “Behold, from Adam all the years have passed,” some Christians of his time are crying, for Rome had fallen in 410; he continues: “and behold, the 6000 years are completed, and now comes the Day of Judgment!”4 Obviously different writers offered different dates. Fredriksen writes: “Calculations for the year 6000 fell variously between anno domini dates of 400 to 500, the latter prevailing in the West.”5 Origen (d. c. 254) offers us an example of how one can react to this misguided apocalypticism through spiritualizing and even interiorizing the apocalyptic passages of the 3 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.3 (ANF, 1:559). “666” is the number of the apocalyptic beast in Revelation 13.18. 4 Augustine, Sermon 113.8, as rendered by Paula Fredriksen, “Apocalypticism,” in Augustine through the Ages, ed. Fitzgerald, 51. 5 Fredriksen, “Apocalypticism,” 50, 51. 6 New Testament. Joseph Trigg, for example, tells us “that there is not the slightest trace of apocalyptic eschatology, the notion that Christ will in fact reappear to establish God’s reign on earth, in Origen’s understanding of the kingdom of God, ‘the blessed state of the reason and the ordered condition of wise thoughts.’”6 His commentary on Matthew follows suit, psychologizing and allegorizing apocalyptic passages. Christ’s (the Son of Man’s) “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 24.30) can be taken to mean “his appearance to the perfect in their reading of the Bible.” Christ’s two comings express his coming to the Christian beginners and the Christians of more perfect spiritual attainment, respectively, by way of further example. Trigg notes that Origen nowhere explicity denies “vivid apocalyptic expectations”; still the practical effect is their individualizing and spiritualizing.7 Origen’s approach prefigures the tendency of the Hellenistic Christian tradition of Alexandria to spiritualize biblical texts. The reader may wish to refer back to our earlier comments on patristic interpretation of the Bible in our second chapter (supplement for further study). Origen’s approach brings out something of the qualitatively kairotic nature of eschatology, that is, the present moment is a moment of new opportunity through grace. In this way it has a certain attractiveness and relevance. As G. Filoramo notes, Origen’s perspective should not be confused with a doctrine of the last things, although Firolamo thinks it commonly is. Origen offers us, rather, an “immediate expectation of the end.”8 When eschatology becomes simply a speculation about what happens to the individual after death (the “last 6 Origen, On Prayer, 25.1 (trans. John Ernest Leonard Oulton, Library of Christian Classics, vol. 2 [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954], 289); Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-century Church (Atlanta: John Knox, 1983), 162. 7 See Trigg, Origen, 212-13. 8 G. Filoramo, “Eschatology,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 1:286. 7 things”), then we have really begun to evaporate the eschatological tension, along with simply individualizing it. But with Origen we can sense something of the tension in its kairotic dimension. Still the cost is somewhat expensive, for the social, collective punch of apocalyptic and eschatology, and their futurity, seem greatly missing. In Eusebius’ case, we can sense something of the danger of a Christian imperialistic triumphalism, along with an ecclesiology which is rather politically subservient. This seems to have been the typical danger of the Church in the eastern, Byzantine Empire, although the eschatological thrust of Eastern monasticism provided something of a dialectical balance and critique of Byzantine caesaropapism. Irenaeus’ case seems more difficult. One wonders if in his case it is not simply his “reverence for ‘apostolic tradition’” which causes him to hold on to his speculations regarding the millennium (the thousand year reign of Revelation 20.4-5), as Jaroslav Pelikan seems to hint.9 It is not easy to gauge just how difficult it was for the early Church to follow up on Paul’s hints and work out a more differentiated eschatology. Justin (second century) seems to have thought that his period was that of the millennium of Revelation 20, but he also seems to have admitted that “many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”10 This would indicate a largeness of mind willing to learn from the lessons of historical experience. It may also be that the already/not yet tension was healthily maintained by liturgy and creed, as Pelikan suggests, thus enabling a transition to a more differentiated 9 Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1: 124: “Irenaeus, with his reverence for ‘apostolic tradition,’ described in glowing terms the transformation of the cosmos and the animals during the millennium; as his authority he cited Papias, who was a man of hoary antiquity, had heard the apostle John (writer of the Book of Revelation), and had been associated with Polycarp.” See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.33.4. 10 Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 81, 80 (ANF, 1:240, 239); see Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1:125. 8 eschatology with relatively little angst.11 We have already noted how the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople confesses the first coming of the incarnation and the second coming of judgment at the end. “…the references to the ‘coming’ of Christ in the scraps of early liturgies that have come down to us,” writes Pelikan, referring to the Apostolic Constitutions and the Didache, would seem to affirm this. “When the ancient liturgy prayed, ‘Let grace come [or ‘Let the Lord come’], and let the world pass away,’ its eschatological perspective took in both the final coming of Christ and his coming in the Eucharist.”12 One loses the eschatological tension either by pushing the reign of God too far off into a distant future, or by phantasizing that it is more present than it truly is. A view of eschatology as simply a doctrine of the “last things” which we await tends toward the former, while apocalyptic’s keen sense of imminence tends toward the latter.13 True hope resides in the creative tension between both poles. Augustine would meet this standard in the West, when he interpreted the millennium as a symbol for “the period beginning with Christ’s first coming,” explicitly ruling out, as he wrote, “any reference to that kingdom which he is to speak of at the end of the world …” He counsels: “It is vain, therefore, that we try to reckon and put a limit to the number of years that remain for this world, since we hear from the mouth of the Truth that it is not for us to know this.” In this period, the Church can be considered the “kingdom of Christ,” in the sense that it is a mixed reality of sinners and saints, whereas the “kingdom of heaven” is the final realm of the saints alone. “And so even now his saints reign with him, 11 Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1:126-27. 12 Ibid., 126, referring to Const. App., 7.26.5 and Didache 10.6. 13 A pure doctrine of the last things would be the notion that the eschaton simply happens later, without much regard for how it qualifies our present existence now, personally, collectively, and even cosmically. In fact, the view likely did not exist in such purity. 9 though not in the same way as they will then reign; and yet the tares do not reign with him, although they are growing in the Church side by side with the wheat.”14 The symbols of the “city of God” and the “earthly city,” which govern his classic City of God, complexify this schema of the kingdom of Christ/kingdom of heaven,” just noted. For the love of God (= the city of God) is a force at work within and without the borders of the earthly Church, in a mysterious way known only to God, although it is more forcefully at work within the earthly Church, apparently. And likewise, the (inordinate) love of self (= the earthly city) is a force at work within both the earthly Church and beyond its borders, although apparently a force not equal in effect to the power of love of God.15 With Augustine, then, the tension between the already and the not yet of Jesus’ new community (reign of God) is given a multilayered interpretation. The tension is an historical one, namely, the earthly pilgrimage of the heavenly city as it realizes its predestined purposes within history, encountering struggles with the opposed earthly city, on its way toward the final realization of the kingdom of heaven. The already/not yet is thus a historical tension between divine love and creaturely selfishness. That tension is, secondly, a communal one, playing itself out within both the earthly church and within society (of all kinds). Thirdly, that 14 Augustine, City of God, 18.53; 20.9 (Knowles, ed., 914-15). The references are to Acts 1.6-7 and to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Mt 13.24-43. 15 Ibid., 11.1; 12.1; 15.1, etc. (Knowles, ed., 429-31, 471, 595). John von Heyking, Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World, Eric Voegelin Institute Series in Political Philosophy (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001), is suggestive on the interplay between the heavenly and the earthly cities, and offers a stimulating defense of Augustine’s qualified endorsement of political action in a Christian epoch. Voegelin, in my view, seems rather to think that Augustine basically or at least largely ignored the poltical realm, given his attention to and absorption in the transcendental inrush of Christian revelation. See, for example, among others, Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, 335, or The New Science of Politics, 184. Voegelin uses the phrase saeculum senescens (“an age that grows old,” ibid.) as characteristic of Augustine’s relative lack of interest in the world and politics. This precise phrase may be an inversion of Alois Dempf’s senescens saeculum in his Sacrum Imperium: Geschichts- und Staatsphilosophie die Mittelalters und der Politischen Renaissance (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962), 119, 129. I have not been able to find the exact phrase in Augustine’s works, as of yet. 10 tension is a personal one, playing itself out in the mysterious depths of each individual, as she or he through grace and free will is formed or deformed by the various possible objects of love chosen on the pilgrimage. The Christological kairos, namely, the challenge of a personal and interpersonal relationship with God through Jesus, is the decisive feature of this personal level of the already/not yet tension. “ … in order to give man’s [sic] mind greater confidence in its journey towards the truth … God the Son of God, who is himself the Truth, took manhood without abandoning his godhead … As God, he is the goal; as man, he is the way.”16 Fourthly, there is even a hint of the spatial dimension of the tension, that is, the pilgrimage occurs within space, and not simply in an abstract, spiritual interior. In this regard, the crucial factor is the symbol of the “city,” whether of God or of evil.17 Geography and the Jesus Movement Augustine’s “hint” of the spatial dimension of Christian and human existence is an appropriate place to offer some observations on this theme. Scholars usually stress the temporal and historical insights of the early Church, given the role of historical consciousness in messianic traditions like Judaism and Christianity, but as we recall, space cannot be separated from time, and so there will likely be reverberations between them all along the line. The already/not yet tension has its correlate in a Christian form of here/there tension. In becoming flesh, the Divine valorizes the space upon which flesh dwells, and makes it into a home.18 The Divine “dwelled among us” (Jn 1.14) and in so doing showed us a way to convert space into a 16 Augustine, City of God, 11.2 (Knowles, ed., 430-31). 17 Ibid., 11.1, for Psalms 87.3; 48.1,2,8; 46.4 (for the city of God) (Knowles, ed., 429). 18 The early Christian debate with Hellenism over the resurrection of the body, as against simply the soul’s immortality, to some extent based upon a somewhat narrow view of the range of Plato’s thought, is a related discussion over the incarnation’s valorization of space, for our bodies are our link with space.

1 Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid To Be Partners (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006) by William Thompson-Uberuaga CHAPTER THREE
See more

The list of books you might like

Upgrade Premium
Most books are stored in the elastic cloud where traffic is expensive. For this reason, we have a limit on daily download.