28 August, 2004

Observations on the uniqueness of Christian faith

In a recent article for www.chiesa (which is not located at www.chiesa.it), Sandro Magister highlights the following quote from a recent book on the Catholic faith:

L’atto [cristiano] di fede si pone dinanzi alla verità di Dio e dell’uomo in maniera così coerente ed equilibrata che non trova riscontro in altre religioni. All’uomo non viene chiesto di umiliarsi oltre misura, annientando se stesso davanti a Dio. A Dio non viene imposto di immettersi in tutte le cose confondendosi con la sua stessa creazione.
In English:
The [Christian] act of faith places itself before the truth of God and Man in such a coherent and level-headed manner that it has no comparison in other religions. It does not ask Man to humiliate himself beyond measure, annihilating himself before God. It does not require God to immerse himself in everything, confusing himself with his creation.
You can read an English translation of the article here.

Magister says the targets of this passage are Islam (whose very name, according to the Muslims themselves, means submission) and "the great Asian religions", but for the life of me I can't think of any great Asian religions that are pantheistic, which probably speaks to my ignorance of Asian religions, or my misunderstanding the passage. I'm not sure it's a fair characterization of Islam, either.

Moreover, I'm certain that Victor Hugo would disagree with such a mild characterization of Christianity, as would anyone familiar with 19th century, Jansenist-influenced, French Catholic monasticism, or with the writings of some of the saints.

Maybe the book explains it better.

In any case, Magister does highlight a few other excellent passages that distinguish Christianity from other great religions:
  1. Christian martyrdom and Muslim martyrdom are absolutely incomparable
  2. unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity is not a religion of the book
    (The announcement Jesus makes cannot be distinguished from his making himself present and showing his face: [it is] an incomparable unity.)
  3. Christians dare to address God with the intimate term of Father (Abba)
    (Never in the Old Testament or in the extrabiblical texts do we find a similar relationship between God and a man. A Hebrew would never have dared to address JHWH in this manner... Among the 99 names the Koran attributes to God, "Father" is missing.)
In an age where ecumenism is regularly conflated with indifferentism— by bishops and theologians of the Church no less — it's nice to see a diocese publish a book that tries to explain the uniqueness of Christianity. Magister fails to mention what I consider the most important differences: Christ's death and bodily resurrection, and our subsequent divinization by grace (θεοσις, as the Greek churches say it). Whether that's because the text itself overlooks it (criminal if so!), or because Magister considered other ideas more important, I can't rightly say.

The book, prepared by the diocese of Rome, is Ho creduto; per questo ho parlato ("I have believed; for this reason have I spoken," St. Paul's phrase in 2 Corinthians 4.13). It aims towards an intelligence of faith. There is, to my knowledge, no English translation yet, which merely gives you all the more reason to learn Italian, doesn't it?

Magister's blog, Settimo Cielo, bears occasional reading: again, for those of you who speak Italian.

No comments: