Q: How can “seeing” Jesus of Nazareth as part of the “New Story” deepen our understanding of Incarnation and increase our experience of the humility and love of God?
Ilia: I know I have addressed this question in many other places but it is worth recounting here that Teilhard de Chardin devoted his efforts to developing an understanding of Jesus Christ in relation to a world in evolution. His ideas are echoed in the sentiment of Raimon Panikkar who wrote: “A Christology deaf to the cries of the world is unable to utter any divine Word.” Panikkar said that we cannot understand the significance of Jesus Christ apart from cosmology and, I would add, we cannot understand cosmology apart from physics. We should be somewhat alarmed that a fifth century formula, the Doctrine of Chalcedon (451 AD), remains the core foundation of Christian faith, despite significant paradigm shifts in cosmology, physics and philosophy.
Teilhard’s ideas on Jesus Christ begin with his understanding of God as a dynamic center of activity, a power of love that is interpersonal–triune–a self-creating love and the dynamism of inter-subjectivity. Only a dynamic God, a God who is relationality itself, could be the God of an evolutionary world. Donald Gray, in his book The One and the Many, claims that the Trinity provides Teilhard the key to understanding the whole movement of reality as a process of unification, that is, evolution is a process toward unity.The interpersonal nature of divine love renders an openness in God to creativity and future life. Evolution is Trinity turned toward the world in an ongoing act of love oriented toward the future fullness of life.
I often think we are so weighed down by formulas and dogmas about Jesus Christ we have little room to explore the profound experience of Christ in our own lives. We forget that God is not a doctrine but a living, vibrant, personal center of love.Trinity is the way we name God loving the world, a love that is infinite, dynamic, overflowing, expressive, particular, a love that is utterly singular to this life, this person, this unique creation, expressing itself in a way that the content of the Word becomes the very being of our lives. Each person is endowed with the gift of divine love but we must breathe in to receive this gift and breathe out the Word made flesh in our lives. Most days we are unaware of living in this divine dance of Trinitarian love, and maybe this is the most significant distinction between us and Jesus of Nazareth.
The German theologian Karl Rahner said there is an intrinsic inter-relationship between God’s communication in grace to all people and God’s action in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is a part of evolutionary history that is radically open to the divine bestowal of grace. In Jesus we find a radical and complete openness to God’s self-giving grace. In his own unique way, Jesus came to an explicit awareness of God in his life, a unitive awareness that led him to surrender his life fully to God. The whole process of the world’s self-transcendence into God, therefore, reached its climax in the ”yes” embodied in Jesus’ person and life.
The hypostatic union, according to Rahner, occurs in an intrinsic moment when God’s self-communication and its acceptance by that person are met; this union is open to all spiritual creatures with the bestowal of grace. Rahner made a bold move not by claiming that Jesus is superman who has come to save all but by the fact that what is found and understood in Jesus of Nazareth is open to all people. That is, the experience of Jesus impels us to search in our own lives, and in one’s search to understand, what has already found in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’s complete openness to and union with God was particular to Jesus but also expressive of every person’s capacity for God. His release into the fullness of divine love impelled others to see him as the Christ. Hence what happened between God and the world in Jesus the Christ points to the future of the cosmos. It is a future that involves the radical transformation of created reality through the unitive power of God’s love, a love that empowers every single person and all living creatures.
Jesus is a new departure in the creative process, the beginning of a new possibility for human existence in which new potentialities of life are actualized in those who are willing to share in Jesus’ human and open response to God. In Jesus we find the Hebraic ethically responsible individual and the intense experience of God’s immediacy. Faith in God liberated him to accept the full implications of his freedom and responsibility. Thus we see in Jesus a new structure of existence emerging, a new consciousness. The love of God and consciousness of God’s immanent presence impelled Jesus to create a new field of atoning (or “at-onening) love, bringing into community those left outside community, healing and restoring the sick to life. Jesus is a new “centration” in the universe, a new “big bang,” who ushers in a new directionality into evolution, culminating in the human choice for a new future in God. His death is the liberation of the Spirit of new life. The Spirit is the heart of the Gospel message– new life, hope, future, new creation—all are possible and open to us through the Spirit who draws us into the love of Christ.
We have made Jesus the object of the New Testament but the whole of the Gospel life is an evolution of a new mind and heart, a new spiritual vitality and action in the world. What took place in Jesus is to take place in our lives as well, if God is to emerge as the unitive center of love in evolution. In his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ in his grace-filled human reality becomes a power shaping the whole cosmos. Death is not end but fullness of life. Resurrection is a return to the world in a richer, fuller life; that we might live more abundantly. What happens in Jesus is anticipation of the future of humanity and of cosmos; not annihilation of creation but its radical transformation through the power of God’s life-giving Spirit. Where the Spirit is, there is new creation and new life. Where the Spirit is, there is the living Christ.The Spirit is the breath of God’s creative love so that whoever lives in the Spirit lives in the ever newness of God.
So Jesus is an evolutionary step forward in the development of humankind but evolution does not stop with Jesus. It is an ongoing process, symbolized by the Christ event: “Amen, I say to you, the one who believes in me will also do the works I do and, fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Jesus establishes the pattern of new life in evolution but this pattern is to continue on in our lives; out of the old is born the new. What we look forward to is not escape from materiality but radical transformation in which matter and spirit will be brought to their final life-giving relationship in presence of God. Giving ourselves to Christ is not losing the world but finding the world in its truest reality and in its deepest relation to God. Our participation in the mystery of Christ, therefore, lies at the basis of a healing world, a world aimed toward the fullness of the reign of God.
Throughout his writings Teilhard indicated that the mystery of Christ continues in us; we are part of a great cosmic movement of christogenesis, the emergence of Christ in evolution. Christ is the personal unity of divine love incarnate, the form and goal of cosmic life. Salvation is what happens when we wake up to the inner presence of divine love and respond in love to love. We are to awaken to the inner power of God-Omega. This is the point at which evolution begins, not as adaptation and survival, but as transformation and newness of life, giving rise to the radicality of love and a new structure of being in evolution.
How do we live this evolutionary christic life? How do we pray? What do we do? First, it is to realize that life has changed. The old spiritual journey cannot be pasted on to the new world. Christic evolution requires a new understanding of the spiritual journey. Unfortunately, much of our spiritual language is still shaped by Neoplatonism in which the spiritual triumphs over the material. The Neoplatonists of the early church mapped out the spiritual journey as one from fallen matter to the restored divine image and illumination of mind. Origen (3rd c.), for example, posited that all minds were originally in union with the divine Mind until there was a type of fall in which minds descended into matter, matter being a “good,” since it prevented created mind from a total demise. Hence the contemplative journey is one from matter back to mind, from materiality to spirituality.
In our own time evolution, along with quantum physics, also begins with mind or consciousness [for example, panpsychism] but in this respect mind is integral to matter. Just as the wave-particle cannot be separated since they are two aspects of the same thing, so too mind and matter are two aspects or dimensions of the same reality. Evolution, therefore, is not the fall of mind into matter but the rise of mind in matter. As matter complexifies, consciousness increases and mind emerges. In evolution, the spirit is not transcendent to matter but the realization of matter in its actual fullness; that is, the fullness of materiality is consciousness or mind. The journey into God is the journey of God in evolution or the rising up of God in evolution through higher levels of consciousness. Jesus had a unitive consciousness of God so that self and world were not binary opposites but a seamless unity of divine love. The outer world was within and the inner world was without. Jesus was not only a personal agent of change but was changed by the agency of the world, as he encountered world in others. Hence self-actualization was dependent on mutuality and reciprocity of love. This is a brief way of saying we have approached the spiritual journey as a binary relationship with the emphasis on self-transformation. The life of Jesus opens up something new for us. We need a new approach to the mystery of divine love based on mutuality and complex relationships whereby transformation of self and world are co-terminus.
We have been so deeply platonized that even St. Paul’s resurrected body is seen as something purely spiritual, divorced from materiality. And yet, God saw the whole as good from the beginning; matter is not an obstacle to God but the place to find God. Jesus reveals to us the physical presence of God. God is immersed in materiality, rising up in materiality, loving this physical world into beauty, the community of persons in love; the material and the spiritual are two dimensions of the same reality.
What would our world look like if we really lived an incarnational faith? What would the church look like if it embraced a God of evolution? One who attains the highest levels of consciousness is one who lives by the life of the whole, one who is ready to surrender her or his life for the whole; one who lives beyond the self for the whole, in awareness of deep relational bonds of love with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the disenfranchised; not standing idle but standing in the creative tension of new life. To live in God is to live in the chaos of love, a love that is never settled or closed, a love that is poised on the edge, ready to spring into action, a resilient love that dances with disorder because something new is always bubbling within. I think Jesus lived this type of love because he lived deeply in God. The Spirit draws us into the chaos of love so that instead of trying to fix our problems, we should contemplate the world and be ready to creatively surrender to the radicality of love, for to live in Christ is to live on the cusp of a new future, a future that is God already present in this moment, hidden within us, waiting to be born anew.