Monday, November 8, 2021

Looking East in Spring: enjoying and making sense of Rowan Williams (3/3)

This will be the last post on Rowan Williams' book on Eastern Orthodox theology (for the time being, at least) and other things are on the horizon of interest (including the NZ Catholic Bishops advising on pastoral care when people choose to end their lives (per NZ legislation coming into effect yesterday, per notice from Archbishop Cranmer of all bloggers!)


Yesterday's sermon, working from Ruth 3/4, Hebrews 9 and Mark 12, prompted me to talk about Jesus as the centre of history: anticipated in Jesus' genealogy per Ruth, and looked back on per Hebrews, especially in Hebrews 9:26:

"But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself."

What is history but the imperfection of the world playing out. A Garden of Eden would generate no history (because no conflict, no change, no fear of future change). History flows from the fall and not from creation. What is the centre of history but the intervention of God in Christ to "remove sin". The end of history is then the fullness of salvation from sin, Hebrews 9:28:

"so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."

Looking East

Such thoughts, however, are given a bit of a nudge by Rowan Williams' discussion of the theology of Olivier-Maurice Clément (November 17, 1921 – January 15, 2009). In a chapter discussing "liturgical humanism" he introduces the reader to the theological outlook of Clément and includes this from him:

"The meaning of history, like the meaning of the human subject, is to be found beyond the limits of the world - but this is a "beyond" that has, in the Incarnation,become interior to history and humanity ... It is the death and resurretion of God made human that truly constitutes the End of history, or rather the End in history so that the word "end" does not signify some kind of closure but an infinite opening, a threshold of light. This is an End that judges history's totalitarian pretensions, its illusions and hypnoses, this End, we have argued, wounds history with the wound of eternity and opens up in it the path of repentance and so of hope." (pp. 142-43, cited from La revolte de l'spirit (Paris, Stock 1979), p. 141.*

But this means, Williams elucidates, that to be human 

"is to be summoned to 'communion'" 


"The invitation to engage with the act of love that has eternally engaged me is at the same time the invitation to engage with the human other who, like me, is already seen by God and addressed by God" (p. 143). 

Williams goes on, p. 144, to point out that nothing here is particularly novel to Clément but what the latter points us to is 

"how liturgical life and experience embody the new humanity ... The humanism to which Clément directs us is visible and effective s liturgy, specifically as eucharistic litrugy; and if we are concerned to engage persuasively with a world threatened with an immense range of dehumanizing forces, we must be explciit about the connection between Christian anthropology and Christian liturgy" (p. 144).

I find this (and other things time and space do not permit me to share in this post) to be exciting: liturgy is the living out of the new world God in Christ has invited us to live in, the new creation is experienced in the old history which Christ has "Ended".

Something of the passion of Clément for the eucharist is captured in what Williams says next:

"Clément, in the autobiograph from which I have already quoted, describes his pre-Christian frustration in terms of being 'hungry for the Eucharist', hungry for a practice that would exhibit the new humanity he was gradually becomieng aware of - a humanity characterized by royal authority, priestly mediation and prophetic showing of 'the End already present.'" (p. 144 citing Clément's L'autre soleil (Paris, Stock 1975), p. 142).

That is a wonderful liturgical and humanist vision, and one Anglicans can embrace! 

*Williams backs this up with a lovely quote from Henri de Lubac who once wrote that 

"Christianity is not one of the great things of history: it is history which is one of the great things of Christianity" (Paradoxes of Faith (San Francisco, Ignatius Press 1987), p. 145, cited by Williams, op. cit. p. 144 n8.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, for me the most important pericope of your post here is the quote from the Letter to the Hebrews: " Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."

This would imply that God has already dealt (in the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross) with the problem of sin. Christ's Second Coming is meant to 'Save those who are eagerly waiting for him'. This is why participation in the Eucharist is so important for a believing Christian, for whom Jesus provided his 'new and living way' of celebrating his presence amongst us in the form of the Eucharist. His instruction was: "Do this to remember me until I come again" - EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS! This is one reason why I want to help in the Celebration of the Eucharist while I have breath in my body.

Unknown said...

How does one preach the St Sergius neo-patristic synthesis to prosaic churchfolk at say St Thomas the Doubter on Sunday morning? Thinking...