Introduction: “Forgive Us Our Debts, as We Forgive Our Debtors”
The Spring 2018 issue of Communio continues our series on the Our Father with the petition “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” According to St. Anselm, in sinning we have failed to render to God the worship we owe him, and so have defaulted on our original debt of love. We have made ourselves powerless to do what we ought, while Christ has paid for our offenses in an exchange that gives us a role in freely meriting the beatitude he has granted “without cost.” Through this paradox of our redemption, the debt of sin is cancelled so that we can return to God the thanksgiving that defines our very being.
Philippe Lefebvre attends to the biblical roots of our petition in “Those Dear Words, Debt and Debtors: Biblical Journeys.” He illustrates how Israel’s practice of releasing debts, as exemplified in the jubilee year, informs the meaning of forgiveness in the New Covenant. If bad debt forces one into burdensome dependence on a creditor, God’s absolution liberates us into the joyful, restful dependence of sons upon their Father. “When we ask in the Our Father for the remission of debts, we are brought back to the sources of God’s inaugural, lifegiving will.”
In “Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors,” Roch Kereszty ponders the distinctiveness of Christian forgiveness, which suffers with the suffering, neither abandoning the sinner nor ignoring the wounds of the victim. In the Incarnate Son’s suffering for all, God the Father reveals a compassion that overcomes all violence against it. In making it possible for the repentant sinner to accept forgiveness and to endure all wrongs without retaliating in kind, God grants the Church her way of being as a communal participation in his own love for the world. “This, then, is the great privilege of Christians; they are called to share in the all-forgiving mercy of the Father.”
Paul Scalia, in “Catholic Penance,” contemplates penance as a sacrament of catholicity—that is, the power to integrate into a whole that which is divided. Penance heals the sinner by grafting him anew onto Christ, so that he can share in the Church’s unified and universal life. Scalia illustrates how the sacrament’s formal order serves this dramatic event in which the sinner is restored to the freedom of sonship. Through the “flesh and blood” of his confession, “the penitent becomes a participant in Christ’s one perfect offering, his satisfaction for our sins.”
In “Sacrifice and Freedom: On Mystagogy and the Way of Atonement,” Aaron Riches explicates the petition for forgiveness in the Our Father as a request to cooperate in the very sacrifice, made newly present in the Mass, by which we are saved. Interpreting the Roman Canon in light of biblical soteriology, Riches shows how the eucharistic liturgy brings the penitent Christian into the free act of propitiation that Christ uniquely performs on behalf of all. “Salvation anticipates, but cannot compel, the sacrifice of our own freedom, which contributes no sufficiency, but is nevertheless necessary, if salvation is to enter the inviolable depth of the human being, the freedom of our own offering.” Indeed, this free cooperation in God’s liberating act belongs at the heart of the atonement, which evokes in the sinner the same Yes to God’s merciful sacrifice that is perfectly uttered by the Church in the person of Mary.
Anton Štrukelj, in “The Purification of Memory,” examines Pope St. John Paul II’s public entreaties for forgiveness on behalf of the whole Church. This practice points to the corporate nature of the Church’s guilt, even as the openness to grace that underlies such a confession of sin reveals her immaculate purity as Bride. Indeed, as Štrukelj notes, this example of ecclesial repentance “is actually her prophetic charism,” a feature of her holiness. Aware of the need her members have for reconciliation, the Church in asking for forgiveness bears witness before the world to the very mercy God administers through her.
Antonio López reflects on the necessity of Mary’s representative purity for the salvation of mankind in “The Mystery of Beauty: The Immaculate Conception as the Most Sublime Redemption.” Mary, he says, “reflects the Son’s love for the Father and for man in that she was allowed to have in anticipation that which God wants to give every man—namely, the freedom to let God be God gratuitously and fruitfully.” By the grace of her pre-redemption, Mary recapitulates the original goodness of creaturehood and fulfills the holiness to which Israel was called, even as the beauty of her virginal maternity unveils the glory of man’s perfection in God.
Two articles contemplate art’s nobility as an imitation of nature that brings forth its deepest truths. R. V. Young, in “Literature in the Waste Land: Brideshead Revisited and Literary Education,” presents Evelyn Waugh’s novel as a model for fiction’s mission to represent concretely the form of human action. Young notes that critics of the novel have often failed to grasp its beauty because they assume that it serves an extrinsic end, such as Christian apologetics or a projection of the author’s own lifestyle and character. When we grasp that the work possesses its own integrity, however, a novel like Brideshead Revisited grants its readers the enjoyment of “an image of moral and spiritual reality . . . that nurtures our imaginations and enhances our understanding of the world of experience that we inhabit.”
In “Gift and Mediation at the Heart of Poetry,” Dwight A. Lindley III seeks to justify the unique dignity of the work of art in relation to that which it portrays. Lindley argues that poetic making celebrates the givenness of reality by offering it anew through its author’s personal reception. In this way, the artist delivers to his audience what he has received, enriching by the mediation of this work their own encounter with the world. “Wonderfully, then, the gift turns out to be fecund. The original gift of reality inspires mimetic responses from other makers, and these analogues not only fulfill the human desire to affirm the good, but provide us with a satisfactory way into the reality of the original: through their lenses, the brightness of being will shine out.”
In “Foreword to Benedict XVI’s ‘Grace and Vocation without Remorse,’” Kurt Koch introduces correspondence between Benedict XVI and himself from the previous fall. Benedict XVI’s “Grace and Vocation without Remorse: Comments on the Treatise De Iudaeis” affirms the abiding significance of the covenant with Israel while upholding the salvific universality of Christ and the Church.
In Retrieving the Tradition, we present Gregory of Nyssa’s “The Lord’s Prayer: Sermon 5.” In the body of homilies from which this comes, Gregory ponders how the petitions of the “Our Father” correspond to stages in man’s deification, culminating in his deliverance from evil. For “if a man is free from everything that comes under the idea of evil, he becomes, so to speak, a god by his very way of life, since he verifies in himself what reason finds in the divine nature.” The Christian plays a part in the divine judgment he undergoes precisely by sharing with others, or failing to share, the very mercy he implores and by which God graciously likens the Christian to himself.
In Notes & Comments, first Jean-Pierre Batut discusses the logic of mercy in “Forgiveness: A Homily on the Unmerciful Servant”: “the forgiveness that we have received becomes the pledge of the forgiveness that is to be given.” Interpreting several of Jesus’ parables, Batut explains how the penitent testifies to God’s generosity, and so communicates the gift he has received, by pardoning his neighbor.
Finally, Douglas Farrow’s “The Lady Left for Dragon’s Meat” offers a commentary on the 2017 Paris Statement. This document offers a principled defense of Europe as a homeland and the bearer of a rich patrimony: the great tradition, safeguarded in the Church, which carries forward the fruits of the classical world. According to Farrow, the authors of the Paris Statement set this vision of Europe against a contrary ideology that is now dominant in modern Europe’s politics and economics, one that, in undermining local and familial bonds as well as her cultural identity, leaves Europe both “homeless” and “orphaned.” Farrow suggests that Europe can experience a homecoming, or retrieve her roots, only through “repentance and reconciliation.” “If either Europe or America is to be a place in which people can believe, it must again be a place in which people do believe—believe, that is, in the God of Moses and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”