It could be claimed that all of us are searching — searching for the answers to the meaning of life. Is there anyone in the world who would pretend to have all the answers? A theme common to almost every commentary we've published on Catholica is this theme of a writer searching. Our lead commentator today, Emmy Silvius, tackles the big question: how do we fit our theologies and the Jesus' story into what we're learning about the cosmos and these relatively recent understandings like evolution? This is a commentary where almost ever sentence is electrically charged and scary to hold. Fabulous territory for quiet reflection.
God and the "Big Bang"...
William Lane Craig writes that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence. Lane refers here to creating cause. Atheists believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing. Either the universe was caused to exist or else it sprang into existence wholly uncaused out of nothing 13.7 billion years ago. The first alternative would appear the most rational.
In light of the latest scientific findings, a new edition of the book of Genesis might begin as follows: "In the beginning was God, filled with power and mystery, and God spoke one Word, and the Word exploded into a tiny, hot, dense ball of matter that gave rise to forces and fields, quarks and particles, all joined together like a single strand of thread." However we may understand the new science of the twenty-first century, it has certainly changed our view of the cosmos from what the original author(s) of Genesis could have known. This view continues to unfold through scientific discovery and advanced technology.
As the focus here is on Christ in particular, I will not delve much into the scientific theories of evolution. Nonetheless, it may be helpful to mention the two main opposing theories, namely, Intelligent Design versus the science of evolution, especially neo-Darwinism. The idea that the complexity of the universe proves the existence of a cosmic designer, however, was developed decades before Charles Darwin was born. Its best-known advocate was English theologian William Paley, creator of the famous watchmaker analogy. According to Paley, if we find a pocket watch in a field we immediately infer that it was produced not by natural processes acting blindly but by a designing human intellect. Likewise, he reasoned, that the natural world contains abundant evidence of a supernatural creator. This so-called argument from design was accepted as an explanation of the natural world until the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species in 1859. The aim of this article is to explore ways of viewing these terms through a theological lens.
In her book Christ in Evolution Ilia Delio uses the term "evolution" not only as a scientific explanation of life in the universe but in its broader meaning of dynamic change and self-transcendence in creation. Whatever the cause, we can hardly deny the existence of a certain pressure within creation to move forward toward greater diversity and more multifaceted unions. Ilia explains that intelligent design does not refer to the complexity of the universe, but to its purpose.
Where does Christ fit into all this?
So where does Christ fit into this concept? For Francis of Assisi the incarnation is God's love made visible in the world. The Franciscan medieval theologian Bonaventure, a contemporary of Thomas Aquinas, considered the incarnation as the primacy of love and the completion of creation. Christ does not save us from creation; rather, Christ is the reason for creation. In Ilia's view, the "intelligent design" of the universe is not a distant force directing the flow of life's machinery. In God's eternal wisdom, God desired to share life with another and predestined Christ from all eternity, whether or not sin ever took place. Thus, Christ is the design of the universe because Christ is first in God's intention to love. Because God creates in freedom things can be themselves and follow their own dynamic principles. Life unfolds with a certain degree of chance and uncertainty; there is messiness in creation. Catholic Hindu scholar Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) used the term christophany to indicate that each person bears the mystery of Christ within.
Like Bonaventure, Panikkar sees that we must first discover the Christ within ourselves, then within others and in creation. This can only be achieved through prayer, contemplation, and union with God. As the Word is the inner self-expression of God, the created order is the external expression of the inner Word. As such, the following of Christ cannot remain a first-century event; rather, every age must discover Christ anew. In 1Cor 8:6 Paul claims that Christ was the agent of creation. He also claims that Christ is the goal of creation. There is no doubt that today we live in a totally different world beyond what the fathers of Chalcedon could possibly have conceived.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (mystic and scientist, 1881-1955) expressed this most beautifully by stating that the whole evolutionary creation is a divine milieu — "pregnant with God" — and suggested that the cosmos is a "third nature" of Christ. He also claimed "Christ must be born again; he must be reincarnated in a world that has become too different from that in which he lived".
The meaning and form of Christ adjusts in evolution...
We are not the same as the humans who lived in the days of Jesus of Nazareth. The meaning and form of Christ adjusts in evolution through the creativity of technology. The science of evolution can help open new windows of insight into the relationship between God and the world. Evolution helps us realise that God works through the chaos of creation and is less concerned with designing processes than providing nature with opportunities to participate in its own creation. While theology depends on science for information on the concrete flow of evolutionary history, science cannot provide the framework for interpreting the meaning of life. This is the proper task of theology.
The deeper one enters into the mystery of Christ in one's life, the more one finds Christ at the heart of the universe; everything in some way speaks of Christ, who transcends all boundaries. The one who lives in Christ, therefore, lives in unity. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the terminology "Cosmic Christ" was created. This new terminology was intended to point beyond the narrow confines of human history to the wider creation being disclosed by science. When the adjective "cosmic" is used to describe Christ, it relates Christ to the entire created order, emphasising that Christ's relationship to creation extends beyond the compass of earthly humans and includes the whole cosmos.
According to Teilhard, the predominant concern of theology in the first centuries of the church was to determine, intellectually and mystically, Christ's relation to the Trinity. In our own time, it is to define the link between Christ and the universe; how they stand in relation to each other and how they influence each other. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the universe reaches the climax of its history of self-transcendence towards God. It is through our bodies that we form a part of the whole world. In Jesus we have become aware that the whole cosmos is on a journey to God in and through the human person. Jesus as Christ is the fullest expression of God's gift to us. As the risen Word incarnate, Christ indeed is related to the whole cosmos, and the whole cosmos finds its meaning in Christ. It is Christ that shows the world what God is like.
While the term "incarnation" might not be appropriate to another world order, since it literally means taking on flesh, what we are really talking about is embodiment of the divine Word in created reality. Incarnation as the full self-communication of God's Word in created reality takes place where there is the ability to grasp the divine Word in creation as the Word of God's love. To say that Jesus Christ reveals God is to say that, in Jesus, God can be known and loved. Incarnation on an extraterrestrial level could conceivably take place, as long as there is some type of intelligence within the extraterrestrial species to grasp the Word of God through knowledge of the divine embodied Word.
The meaning of Christ is beyond the man Jesus of Nazareth...
The meaning of Christ is beyond the man Jesus of Nazareth. Through a labyrinth of Greek cosmology, terminology, ecumenical councils, and various doctrines, we have locked the mystery of God into a single, individual human person, Jesus of Nazareth, so that Jesus Christ has become some kind of superhero and we are mere spectators to the divine drama. But Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the one raised from the dead and transfigured in glory. It is difficult to really grasp the significance of Jesus Christ for Christian life if our confession of faith is governed by a medieval cosmology and a fixed place for fallen humanity. The evolutionary worldview, however, has opened up for us a whole new meaning of humanity and, within humanity, the emergence of Jesus Christ. By viewing the incarnation as the primal expression of the love of God, Ilia suggests that every created life-bearing order is Christologically structured so that there may be multiple incarnations but one Christ.
What about those who do not know Christ or who do not believe in Christ? Do they participate in the evolution of Christ as well? Whether or not one explicitly knows Jesus, the Christ mystery is at the core of human life and life in the universe. Because human nature is not accidental to Christ, Christ cannot be accidental to the human person; all of humanity and creation is central to the Christ mystery. Without us, Christ does not exist and without Christ we have no hope in the universe. Thus, every religion is ultimately centred in Christ insofar as every religion has a personal centre and seeks unity in God. As Christians we bear a particular task in the universe, which is to help realise the fullness of Christ by following the example of Jesus. To be a Christian is to make Christ alive through relationships of love, to enter into dialogue with persons of other religions and cultures, to share life with others — in other words, to "put on" Christ. We as a human race, are not unique because of what we can impose from outside the created order, but because we can participate from within it. "We belong to a greater whole from which we receive our very being and without which we have neither meaning, purpose, nor uniqueness in the great cosmic drama".
The Christian task is to help realise the power of Christ as the unifying centre of the universe. Panikkar and others teach us that by entering into union with other faiths we bring about the fullness of Christ in creation. To become a co-creator in Christ is to become a vessel of love through which God's selfless love may flow into the world uniting the world in love. It is to come to a new level of consciousness and realise that our neighbour is not the exception to God; rather, that God is just as much a part of that person as God is of us. If we abandon Christ then we discard any hope for unification and thus peace in the world; indeed, in the cosmos itself. The centrality of Christ is not an obstacle to the unity of world religions but the very source of this unity. Such an idea supports Christ as a coincidence of opposites whose fullness involves diversity and difference; the greater the opposites, the greater the fullness of Christ.
The Christian revelation and salvation are universally relevant because the God revealed to us through Jesus is the creating and redeeming God of all. For Christians, the history of Jesus provides the clues for insight unto the way in which God deals with humanity and its history. How God might deal with other forms of intelligent life, if they in fact exist, need not be the same. As Zachary Hayes OM explains, this would have to do with their historical peculiarities.
It seems to me that just as our diminutive minds cannot comprehend, let alone name God, we cannot possibly try to explain the complexities of God's existence throughout the entire cosmos. Only recently have we discovered our minute place in the one universe in which we exist — this tiny snapshot is a mere speck indeed in the collage of all that has ever existed, exists now, or is yet still to come into existence. No word, no sentence, except perhaps: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" [John 1:1] could come close to expressing the enormity of all forms of life and the place of Christ in the midst of it all!
Emmy Silvius submitted to Catholica 07 February 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?