Friday, November 30, 2007

Spe Salvi: Eternal life – what is it?


I have just managed a cursory read through of Spe Salvi, it is obviously worth very serious study. It strikes me that this is a crucial document for evangelisation and for a rethink of much that passes for catechises within the Church. What is so refreshing is that there is little that is horizantalist about it, it is strictly about turning towards the Lord. This little section on Baptism for example, which draws not from the renewed Rite but from the more ancient sources, the Extraordinary Form, speaks about the role of the Church and the sacramental economy.

Eternal life – what is it?

10. We have spoken thus far of faith and hope in the New Testament and in early Christianity; yet it has always been clear that we are referring not only to the past: the entire reflection concerns living and dying in general, and therefore it also concerns us here and now. So now we must ask explicitly: is the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope?

Is it “performative” for us—is it a message which shapes our life in a new way, or is it just “information” which, in the meantime, we have set aside and which now seems to us to have been superseded by more recent information? In the search for an answer, I would like to begin with the classical form of the dialogue with which the rite of Baptism expressed the reception of an infant into the community of believers and the infant's rebirth in Christ. First of all the priest asked what name the parents had chosen for the child, and then he continued with the question: “What do you ask of the Church?” Answer: “Faith”. “And what does faith give you?” “Eternal life”. According to this dialogue, the parents were seeking access to the faith for their child, communion with believers, because they saw in faith the key to “eternal life”. Today as in the past, this is what being baptized, becoming Christians, is all about: it is not just an act of socialization within the community, not simply a welcome into the Church. The parents expect more for the one to be baptized: they expect that faith, which includes the corporeal nature of the Church and her sacraments, will give life to their child—eternal life. Faith is the substance of hope. But then the question arises: do we really want this—to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable. This is precisely the point made, for example, by Saint Ambrose, one of the Church Fathers, in the funeral discourse for his deceased brother Satyrus: “Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin ... began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.” 6 A little earlier, Ambrose had said: “Death is, then, no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation.”

6 comments:

Nicholas said...

You look much younger with glasses Father!

Ottaviani said...

I find it interesting that the encyclical doesn't quote from the rather... ahem... modern Gaudiam et Spes.

I can see the liberals are all sacred after the quotation of the old rite baptism.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Ottavianni
Yes, I wonder why?

Ottaviani said...

I think... dare I say... that the Pope has secretly thought that Gaudiam et Spes, although no strictly heretical, is very un-Catholic in ethos.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Ottaviani,
He has written something like that somewhere. In Milestones maybe, I am not sure.

Ottaviani said...

I believe that the Pope said as head of the CDF, that Gaudiam et Spes is the "counter-syllabus" to Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors, in one of his books.

So much for hermeneutics of continuity...