Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 71, “The New Man”

Dear friend,

With this chapter, Romano Guardini leaves the Acts of the Apostles and launches into the final books of the New Testament, riffling through the Epistles of St. Paul to arrive at the ultimate book of Revelation. Right up to the moment of the Ascension, the first event in Acts, Christ’s disciples lived “in sight of” him, according to Guardini. Now, they begin to live “in” him.

St. Paul (left) writes repeatedly of Christ’s living “in” him. Guardini calls this “the very essence of apostledom.” But what does it mean? When we Christians say that Christ lives “in” us, are we only dreaming, indulging in mystical wish-fulfillment, setting ourselves up as the butt of skeptical jokes?

No. Guardini insists that Christ can live in us. How?

It begins with baptism. Born into independent, solitary existence from our mother’s womb, we are drawn in baptism “into the unutterable depths of another womb that is at once beginning and end.”

My dear old friend, I admit that something in me cries out at this! If I were sitting at the Harkness table and a religion teacher made such a statement, I would have my hand up. I’d be waving it impatiently. I was baptized at the age of seven months. I don’t remember this. How could my baptism have led to such a birth, such a womb? Then again, if I had caught a virus at seven months, or seven years or twenty-seven, I wouldn’t remember that either. Is it possible that something invisible did enter at the moment of my baptism as well?

Guardini explains St. Paul’s theology here: “When the Lord died and rose again, he remained who he was: Jesus Christ. However, his entire being assumed a new form: that of the Transfiguration. He became the spiritualized Christ, the mystical Christ—which does not mean that he was now spirit as opposed to body (mere essence, idea, impulse, power), but that his whole being, body and soul, was transfigured, released by the Holy Spirit from the prison of earthly corporality into the freedom of pure activity.”

OK, that’s a mouthful, or mindful. But if we could accept this possibility, this understanding of the resurrected and transfigured Christ, as a new sort of force alive in the world, we would be making room for possibilities:

“For this Christ no limitations exist—also none of person. He can inhabit the believer, not only so that he constantly thinks of Christ or loves him, but actually, as the human soul inhabits a body. Body and soul, Christ can inhabit the believer . . . ”

Ah ha! Christ in me!

But even if we crack open the door of our unbelief to admit this strange notion, wouldn’t this mean that by letting Christ in, we forfeit our individuality? No again:

“God is the One of whom it can be said, that the more powerfully he activates an individual, and the more completely he penetrates his being, the more clearly that individual attains his own inherent personality.”

There is much more in this chapter to chew on, and I’ll break off here. It’s been a long class already, and the bell in the Academy Building is tolling the end of the period. But let’s give the teacher one last word. As we move from the Gospels to the Epistles, RG explains, we no longer are instructed to “imitate” Christ.

“To be a follower of Christ,” according to St. Paul, “does not mean to imitate him, literally, but to express him through the medium of one’s life. . . . The task of the Christian consists of transposing Christ into the stuff of his own daily existence.”

Dear friend, I’m far from understanding this. But I sense and sometimes think and continue to believe that there may be truths here that surpass anything “dreamed of in our philosophy.”

Faithfully yours,
WB

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s book The Lord continues here with chapter 72.

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