Monday, June 21, 2004

Christian Heritage - June 21 - God's Union with the Beloved

Anyone who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. As God's kindness is beyond all telling, as his love for our race defies human utterance and is commensurate with the divine goodness alone, so it follows that his union with his beloved ones is closer than any other conceivable union and admits of no comparison. Scripture of necessity has recourse to many models in order to describe that intimacy, for one alone is insufficient. Sometimes it takes a dweller and his house as an example, sometimes a vine and its branch, sometimes marriage, sometimes members and head; but none of these is adequate to express it or bring us to the complete truth. Friendship and love tend necessarily to unite, but what human friendship can compare with the love of God? The models which seem best fitted to connote intimacy and oneness are marriage and the harmonious subordination of the members of a body to its head.

Nicolas Cabasilas (AD 1322-1387), Life of Christ 1: PG 150, 497-500

The Scriptures have been called a window. As great as they are, they are merely what we use to look at something far greater. Nicolas alludes to this facet of Scripture by saying Scripture necessarily uses many different images to explain the same truth, "but none of these is adequate to express it or bring us to the complete truth." The object of revelation is greater than the revelation itself. A man loves his beloved herself, not her words "I love you."

We lose the meaning of Scripture if we examine it and revere in isolation both from the God that inspired it and from the Church - the people - in which it was created. It's like scrutinizing a window rather than scrutinizing everything else the window is made to let us see. In the first case, isolating Scripture from God means receiving the Word without prayer and humility. It is like looking out a window but refusing to lift our eyes to the landscape, or perhaps even more accurately, like looking more closely at the glass than the beauty projected through it.* We must be ready and willing to "walk into the sunset" with our hearts and minds before, during, and after looking through the window of the Scriptures.

In the second case, isolating Scripture from the Church into which God Himself placed it is like removing a window frame from the house into which it has been built (cf. Mth 16:18ff; 1 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 2:4-5). Each of us certainly can get a great view through the window by carrying it around on our own, looking at whatever we like whenever we like. But in so doing, in privatizing the window, we ruin the house which the Architect has built. A house has a particular structure and that structure makes windows face a particular direction in order to allow a particular view of a particular object. We are made to live in a house with windows, not under windows outside of the house. We are made to live in a room with a view, not in a view. To rip the Scriptures out of the wall of history and tradition and the Builder's ancient plan means not only damaging the house but also losing the intended view. More vividly, ripping the Bible out of the Church in which it was written and assembled is rather like gouging your eye out to have a better look at it.

The only modification I'd add to this analogy at the moment is that God built the house (the Church) around a window, rather than merely plugging the window into a convenient hole in the wall. Indeed, the production of the window was simultaneous and indescribable from the formation of the rest of the house. God saw fit to fuse the two in his construction; to try rending the two apart now is disastrous.

As a philosophical aside, I realized the tendency to remove the Bible from the Church may be closely connected to the philosophical environment which has shaped the last four or five centuries of Western philosophical discourse. Descartes ushered in an analogously great amount of destruction with his literally egocentric epistemology. Rather than using the mind to analyze the world which feeds it empirically frmo the actual world, Descartes sought to analyze the mind itself apart from any “misleading” empirical data outside his own pure self-consciousness. He used his mind to analyze his mind, assuming it was the only absolutely certain basis for assessing reality. The analogy I’m suggesting is that Descartes ripped the mind from its divinely crafted somatic house just as various people rip the Scriptures from its divinely established house.

Both tendencies stem from a failure of nerve. The analogy is even more remarkable considering both Descartes and the Biblewreckers are deeply skeptical of the reports "the Body" gives the Mind.) Descartes had “a crisis of faith” in the reliability of his senses. He simply stopped trusting what his body told him. In a similar way, these biblical housewreckers suffer from a lack of faith in the reliability of the Holy Spirit to work in and through His Church adequately enough to feed us here and now. The Body of Christ is an organism with a huge historical skeleton, a stunning liturgical musculature and a vibrant mystical neurovascular system. It was born on Pentecost and has been growing ever since (cf. Eph 4:13ff). Unfortunately, these Biblewreckers simply do not trust what the Body tells them. They would rather gouge out the eye of Scripture for themselves. It may be snide but I'm reminded of Gollum tearing off Frodo's finger just to possess the Ring.

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