Fall 2007. Memory and the Family
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“May the Lord God remember all of you in His Kingdom, at all times, now and forever, and in eternity” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). The Fall, 2007 issue of Communio presents four articles on the theme of Memory and the Family. Israel’s memory and fidelity to God is at once a memory of his mighty deeds on their behalf and a memory of their own being generated by God. In his Incarnation, death, and Resurrection, Jesus Christ recapitulates the memory and hope of Israel and communicates this memory to the Church in flesh and blood. At the heart of the Church’s memory is the figure of Mary, who keeps in her heart the meaning of Christ’s divine sonship and his human birth. Within the Church, the family has the unique responsibility for remembering and communicating the meaning of birth as a sign of our coming from God and existing for God. As Alexander Schmemann writes: “Man responds to God’s memory with his own memory of God. If God’s memory of man is the gift of life, then man’s memory of God is the reception of this life-giving gift.”
In “Fidelity and the Memory of Israel, Through the Figures of Abraham and Isaac,” Jean-Pierre Batut reflects on Israel’s faithful memory of what is known as the “binding of Isaac.” In its interpretation of this unique event, Israel is accustomed to underscore not only Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, but the complicity or communion of will between father and son: “the point is to show in Isaac’s attitude what God awaits from Israel herself in the midst of her tribulations. . . . Israel is called to imitate Isaac’s gift of self.” “What constitutes the memory of Israel,” Batut argues, “is in the first place the memory of being born.” Jesus, recapitulating the prophetic figures of Israel, “lived to the end in his flesh and in the gift of his person his fidelity to his being as Son in order to incarnate the Spousal God of the Old Testament in the gift of himself to the Church.”
In “Remembering and Giving Thanks: Reflections on Alexander Schmemann’s The Eucharist,” Jan-Heiner Tück reflects on the last, and perhaps most significant, book of the great Orthodox theologian. “The Church draws its life from the Eucharist, and in the celebration of the Eucharist we see both what it means to be the Church and what the Church is called to be.” Following Schmemann, Tück highlights the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist as sacrifice and communion: “Without Jesus Christ’s gift of self, his bloody death for our sake, there would be no eucharistic communio with God and no community among believers that will outlast even death. It is the Christus passus who gives himself to us in the gifts of bread and wine and grants us forgiveness and peace. In this respect, to communicate means to allow oneself to be taken up into his attitude of self-gift for the benefit of others.”
In order for this life-giving gift to bear fruit, we need to reconceive the nature and task of the human family in relation to the order of civilization. In “Recognizing the Roots of Society in the Family, Foundation of Justice,” David S. Crawford examines the implications of proceduralism, as it emerges in the modern liberal state, for our concept of marriage and family. After reviewing important tendencies among liberal thinkers’ discussions of the family, he concludes that liberalism’s necessary abstraction from comprehensive visions of the good also entails an abstraction from the meaningfulness of the embodied nature of the human person. The result is that liberalism tacitly presupposes an androgynous anthropology.
In “The Science of the Family in Light of the Science of Faith: A Theological Reading of Biomedicine and the Human Sciences,” Roberto Columbo proposes a re-thinking of the relation between faith and the sciences in light of the analogy of being and in light of the reality of the human body as sign. Analogy provides “the key to attaining the real in its historical concreteness and to at least approaching the Origin, that is, the identity of being and love in the Trinity.” The human body, Columbo argues, is not simply an object “that is available for boundless manipulation at the hands of medicine and biotechnology”; it is, in the dual unity of man and woman, “a living sign, a gift of the Creator, through which a spiritual self manifests and expresses itself.” From the heart of science’s own concern, Columbo opens a path for science to discover that love is not “a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is ‘divine’ because it comes from God and unites us to God (DCE, 18).”
As part of Communio’s ongoing reflection on Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth, the current issue presents two articles that consider the relation between exegesis and theology. In “Jesus of Nazareth and the Renewal of New Testament Theology,” the exegete Denis Farkasfalvy interprets Benedict’s contribution against the backdrop of the “enormous problems Catholic theology faces as an aftermath of its almost unlimited and often uncritical consumption of modern biblical scholarship.” While demonstrating the importance and the necessity of the historical-critical method when used competently and responsibly, Pope Benedict “wants to help modern Gospel studies reset their focus not just on Christology but on the sonship of Jesus as the ultimate reality on which the validity of every statement of the Gospels—in fact, in all the New Testament—depends.”
In “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth for Theologians,” Roch Kereszty begins from Pope Benedict’s own description of the book as “an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’” Kereszty makes two interrelated points: first, Benedict interprets the Jesus of the Gospels as “the real, ‘historical,’ Jesus in the strict sense of the word.” Secondly, “[t]he glory of Jesus’ divinity . . . shines not in lofty, other-worldly scenes, but in the Cross, where he will reveal his love to the end and draw all to himself. For this reason, every intimation of Jesus’ divine status and communion with the Father is linked to . . . his invitation to discipleship.” Kereszty summarizes the challenge of the Pope’s book as follows: “if the ultimate Truth is ultimate love, if God invites us to share in his own life of love, then theologians should articulate all the mysteries of faith in such a way as to present the concrete shape and form of this invitation and participation. Theological knowledge, in other words, should lead us to Christian life and union with God.”
Finally, Notes and Comments returns to the theme of memory with two reflections on religion in America. Expounding on America as the “first great experiment in Protestant social formation,” Stanley Hauerwas notes in “America’s God” that “[m]ore Americans may go to church than their counterparts in Europe, but the churches to which they go do little to challenge the secular presumptions that form their lives or the lives of the churches to which they go.” Hauerwas then calls attention to the pervasive idea that “you should have no story but the story you chose.” His response, in a nutshell, is to rediscover the truth “that God has called us to participate in a story that is not of our own making.” “We are creatures of a good God who has storied us through engrafting us to the people of Israel through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” In “Liberalism and the Memory of God: The Religious Sense in America,” David L. Schindler draws attention to the peculiar nature of secularism in America: “‘[a] modern secularist quite often accepts the idea of God. What he emphatically negates is precisely the sacramentality of the world’ [Schmemann]. What he negates, in other words . . . is the memory of God the Giver present in man and the world in the form of being as gift. It is in this sense that the dominant liberal culture of America, precisely coincident with the sincerity of its professed belief in God, remains forgetful of God.” The responsibility of Christians in relation to culture consists in “awakening and sustaining the memory of who and what we are: awakening us to our origin and thus to our original and abiding meaning as gifts from God in Christ.”
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