Introduction: “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven”
The Spring, 2015 issue of Communio inaugurates a new series dedicated to the Lord’s Prayer, beginning with “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven.” In his Eschatology, Joseph Ratzinger writes that heaven is not some ethereal category, having nothing to do with our lives here and now, but rather, a “sheer description of what happens in the encounter with Christ.” Heaven’s “existence depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself.”1 When Jesus teaches the apostles to pray to the Father, he is also teaching them that the only path to heaven and thus the Father is in his very being. Only through the Son may we become one with the Father in heaven (cf. Jn 17:22).
Jan-Heiner Tück’s “The Father Without the Son Would Not Be the Father: The Concept of God at the Council of Nicaea” traces the contours of the Arian controversy about the divinity of the Son in the first several centuries of the Church, which was officially resolved at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Tück explains that the title and nature of the Father is also at stake in such controversies: the argument of the Arians was that they were protecting the transcendence of the Father by ascribing an entirely different nature to Jesus Christ, but “if an ontological abyss separates the Son from the Father, and if the former has a different nature, then the Son can no longer be the self-revelation of the Father.”
In “‘Further Up and Further In!’: C. S. Lewis on Heaven,” Carol Zaleski explores the evolution of Lewis’s Christian faith, which goes hand in hand with “the modern Interpreter’s” greater awareness of the Christian vision of heaven. Originally an atheist, through his encounter with medieval sources Lewis began to comprehend a “sacramental worldview in which the marriage of sensibles and insensibles was a normal condition of thought.” In this vein, Lewis’s understanding of heaven—and thus the telos of the Christian existence—expanded to include the fulfillment of all desires beyond our imagination, for “nothing is wanting in heaven, but the mystery remains.”
Nicholas J. Healy Jr.’s “Vatican II and the Catholicity of Salvation: A Response to Ralph Martin” treats heaven in terms of the question posed by Martin’s recent book, Will Many Be Saved? In dialogue with Martin, Healy reflects on the relationship between the Church’s duty to evangelize and the possibility of salvation for nonbelievers. Drawing on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Healy shows that the key to holding together the real possibility of salvation for all and the necessity of the Church for salvation is a deeper awareness of the social and ecclesial dimension of salvation in Christ. “Far from diminishing the urgency of the Church’s missionary task, a hope for the salvation of all is an invitation to be grasped, wholly and without reserve, by the urgency of the Gospel.”
Martin Bieler approaches this same mystery from the other side, as it were, in “God and the Cross: The Doctrine of God in the Work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.” Bieler, a Reformed pastor and a student of both Hans Urs von Balthasar and Ferdinand Ulrich, explains that Balthasar’s understanding of Christ’s descent into hell on Holy Saturday is always coincident with the depth of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for mankind. Because of the “no” fallen man gives in opposition to the reciprocity of divine and creaturely freedom in the covenant with God, Christ—as the covenant incarnated—must overcome this “no” without ignoring human freedom. He does this in his act of obedience: his death on the Cross and descent into hell. Pointing also to Gregory of Nyssa and Nicholas of Cusa, Bieler explains that the descent into hell is not therefore simply a cruel or meaningless separation of the Son from the Father, but rather a separation for the sake of every human being who Christ wishes to gather into himself. “In the descensus,” writes Bieler, “beyond the limits of space and time, Christ reaches every human being in the totality of his or her history,” while preserving the reality of human freedom.
In “The Sacrament of Creation: A Reading of Origen’s Commentary on the Song of Songs,” John C. Cavadini argues that the union and community of the Church is not simply an eschatological vision or wish, but the visible communion of the Church as we know her now. Eschatology is thus not simply another place beyond time, but is being fulfilled presently, in and through the Church. “The whole world,” writes Cavadini, “finds its destiny and its identity as beloved in and through the Church as Bride.”
Robert Imbelli meditates on the prayer of Christ in “The Christocentric Mystagogy of Joseph Ratzinger.” Christ’s entire being is a revelation of his Father: indeed, “the teaching of the Our Father provides ample evidence of his desire that others participate in his intimate knowledge and love of the Father.” Ratzinger understands that it is only in communion with the Son that we can be one with the Father in heaven; thus, Ratzinger’s “mystagogy seeks to foster . . . this conviction, that the Christian’s deepest identity and most authentic freedom is to be a living member of the body of Christ.”
In Retrieving the Tradition, we first present a selection from Josef Pieper’s Hope and History. The telos of history is fundamental to all philosophy of history and cannot be addressed without recourse to prophecy. According to Pieper, this telos will not be reached in a steady continuous process of development, but will involve a kind of break that is “both violent and attractive.” This break is in fact a source of hope for the Christian, who knows history’s fulfillment will arrive “in [the] direct overcoming of death and catastrophe” that is called salvation. “The ‘Kingdom of God’ [will] realize itself nowhere other than in the very midst of the historical world.”
Élisabeth-Paule Labat’s “The Music of Eternity” offers a meditation on the coexistence of perfect harmony and perfect silence in heaven, both expressing the perichoresis of the triune God in himself and in communion with all the saints. The music of eternity, writes Labat, “is immutable like the God it sings of, yet at the same time ever new.”
Finally, in Notes & Comments: in “The Real World: A Metaphysical Reflection on The Great Divorce,” Rachel M. Coleman suggests that this short novel by Lewis on heaven and hell acts as a thoughtful illustration of the metaphysical principle of act and potency, and in so doing provides a corrective for our forgetfulness of heaven. “For Lewis,” says Coleman, “the realities we thoughtlessly regard as abstract, and therefore a bit unreal, on earth—realities such as truth or beauty—are the ‘really real’; and we will be able to touch and feel them in heaven.” But, as Lewis shows in his book through the characters who reject heaven and return to hell, if we refuse to submit to the fullness of actuality that is heaven itself, we lose not only heaven, but the entirety of reality.