Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Christ, True Philosopher
So, for various reasons (most of them 2-years-old), I have not read Benedict XVI's new encyclical through yet. I have read 7 sections. But what I have read is great.
It is particularly great Advent reading. The first sections describe, through the story of St. Josephine Bakhita (an African slave-become-nun) and the lives of the earliest Christians, the way in which the world changed when God became man and dwelt among us. Benedict compares the way in which the Romans and even the Greeks experienced the world to the way we experience it today: the world is governed by fixed laws of nature, there is nothing personal to guide the stars or planets, it is a great machine to be feared and respected.
Not so! says Christ. Not so! echoes Benedict:
"Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love." (Section 5)
Then he turns to early Christian art:
"The sarcophagi of the early Christian era illustrate this concept visually—in the context of death, in the face of which the question concerning life's meaning becomes unavoidable. The figure of Christ is interpreted on ancient sarcophagi principally by two images: the philosopher and the shepherd. Philosophy at that time was not generally seen as a difficult academic discipline, as it is today. Rather, the philosopher was someone who knew how to teach the essential art: the art of being authentically human—the art of living and dying." (Section 6)
Yes! That is why we are philosophers! Or, rather, that is why we are students of philosophy. We want to learn how and to actually become "authentically human."
"To be sure, it had long since been realized that many of the people who went around pretending to be philosophers, teachers of life, were just charlatans who made money through their words, while having nothing to say about real life. All the more, then, the true philosopher who really did know how to point out the path of life was highly sought after. Towards the end of the third century, on the sarcophagus of a child in Rome, we find for the first time, in the context of the resurrection of Lazarus, the figure of Christ as the true philosopher, holding the Gospel in one hand and the philosopher's travelling staff in the other. With his staff, he conquers death; the Gospel brings the truth that itinerant philosophers had searched for in vain. In this image, which then became a common feature of sarcophagus art for a long time, we see clearly what both educated and simple people found in Christ: he tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking. He also shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life." (Section 6)
That should keep your minds and hearts humming at least until the second week of Advent. Seriously consider making Spe Salvi you Advent reading for this year--we wait in joyful hope! That is true wisdom.