Monday, February 28, 2005

At the Origin of the Christian Claim

I just finished reading a book, At the Origin
of the Christian Claim, by the recently deceased
Fr. Luigi Giussani, who is also the founder of the
Catholic fraternity, Communion and Liberation.

I'm not able to write a comprehensive
review of the book, but I will make a few comments.

It is a historical fact that there once lived a
man named Jesus, who gradually revealed
to those who saw, heard, and interacted
with him, that he was the Son of God and the
Messiah that was long awaited by the Jews.
Those closest to him became convinced
that this was the case, to the point of
willing to suffer persecution and death
for their belief. It is up to us to decide
what to make of this series of events.
This is Fr. Giussani's proposition. The
dramatic issue, the pressing question of
the characters in the gospels, and the issue
for us, is the question of, who is this man

Most readers of the book, I'm sure,
are believing Christians. So I quote
from the back cover of the book:

"In this inquiry into Christ's Incarnation,
Luigi Giussani examines Christ's "claim"
to identify himeself with the mystery that
is the ultimate answer to our search for
the meaning of existence. Giussani
argues that if we accept the hypothesis
that the mystery entered the realm of
human existence and spoke in human terms,
the relationship between the individual and
God is no longer based on a moral, imaginative,
or aesthetic human effort, but instead on
coming upon an event in one's life."

The book is the second in a trilogy, the others
being The Religious Sense, and Why the Church?

In, At the Origin of the Christian Claim, Fr. Giusanni
follows a three step pattern that is roughly analogous
to the pattern of the trilogy. First he discusses man's
need and want to understand the ultimate reality
and meaning of life. The central part of the
text is based on the historical event of the man
named Jesus and how those who knew him came
to understand who he was. He finishes with a
discussion of what the man Jesus' Divinity means
and ends with a discussion of the meaning of the
mystery/meaning of the Incarnation (always a great

I personally greatly appreciated chapters 6 and 7
where Fr. Giusssani gives a very clear and precise
analysis of how and why Christ chose to reveal his
Divinity, Messiahship, and mission to his followers
in a gradual fashion. I am not sure if I had read
anything like that before. The implication for me
is that there is a similar pattern that should and
will occur for those discover Christ and start a
relationship with him, even in the year 2005.

Fr. Giussanni is very erudite and articulate. He
freely references various thinkers and artists, some of
whom we general readers in America may not
have been familiar with. Apart from the topic
and the theological language, Giussani's style
is complex. And I have been told that it is not an
issue of translation. They say that in Italian he is
just as difficult. My statement that he can be
difficult/complex is not a negative criticism.
On this score, he is at least on a level with Thomas
Merton. With the cost of this complexity however,
Giussani has managed to communicate some very
complex ideas in a more succinct style than would
otherwise be possible (if that doesn't seem like a
contradiction!). I personally enjoyed discovering
and reading this different and complex style.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Son of Man

On EWTN today I was listening to Dr. Timothy O'Donnell, president of Christendom College, who was reading from Matthew, chapter 8, which included:

When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side.
A scribe approached and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you

Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."

- Romans 8:18-20

According to O'Donnell, this is the first time that Jesus used the phrase Son of Man to refer to himself. O'Donnell goes on to say that Jesus was identifying himself with the son of man from the book of Daniel:

As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:14-14


The Biblical text has the following footnote/comment on this passage in Daniel.

One like a son of man: in contrast to the worldly kingdoms opposed to God, which appear as beasts, the glorified people of God that will form his kingdom on earth is represented in human form (⇒ Daniel 7:18). Just as our Lord applied the figure of the stone hewn from the mountain to himself (⇒ Daniel 2:36-45), he also made the title "Son of Man" his most characteristic way of referring to himself, as the One in whom and through whom the salvation of God's people came to be realized.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Jesus Christ: The Human Being

Below is the text of an article called, “Jesus Christ: The Human Being,” by James W. Douglas that was published in a journal called The Critic , published by the Thomas More Association, in the summer of 1991. Ponder this article in light of all the war, terrorism, murder and abuse in the world today, including the violence depicted in Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ.

IN 1968, a team of archeologists discovered four cave-tombs just north of Jerusalem, the burial site of several families of Jesus’ time. The discovery has become famous because it includes the only extant bones of a crucified man, whose name was Jehonanan. His bones have made it possible to reconstruct the terrible ordeal of an execution by crucifixion under the Roman Empire. Perhaps as significant, the site reveals the overall systemic violence in the time of Jesus. The four caves contain the bones of thirty-six individuals, at least ten of whom were killed by oppression or violence. Specialists have determined that three of the children died of starvation; a child of four died from an arrow wound in his skull; a boy about sixteen years old was burned to death bound on a rack; a slightly older girl was also burned to death; an old woman was killed by the crushing blow of a mace-like weapon; a woman in her thirties died in childbirth, with her unborn child in her pelvis, because of the lack of a simple intervention by a midwife; and Jehonanan, the man, was crucified.

This was the oppression and violence suffered by Palestinian Jews in Jesus’ time.

Christians have paid slight if any heed to this systemic violence as the real situation out of which Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God. As with so many of the world’s peoples, then and now, Jesus had to decide how to respond to the overwhelming oppression surrounding and bearing down upon him. His response was a deepening vision of a nonviolent transformation of his people, in which the kingdom of God, and, “The Human Being,” became his principal terms for expressing a new reality.

That mysterious dimension of Jesus’ vision which he called, remarkably enough, “The Human Being,” Bar Enasha (or Bar Nasha) in Aramaic, is usually translated through an intermediate Greek phrase as, “The Son of Man.” It is commonplace of biblical scholars that Bar Enasha is the most authentic layer of Jesus’ self-identification in the gospels. As John L. McKenzie put it, “The very fact that the phrase is attributed to Jesus [82 times] and to no one else in the gospels is a persuasive consideration that the phrase goes back to Jesus. It then becomes a question of what he meant by the phrase” (New Testament Without Illusion).

The question of the meaning of Bar Enasha has mired scholars in endless debate, even as they have (perhaps not coincidentally) accepted, “Son of Man,” as the term for that debate. But as Mckenzie points out concerning, “Son of Man,” and its Greek derivation, “The phrase was as meaningless in Greek as it is in English.” The Aramaic idiom, with the nuances given it by Jesus, transcends what McKenzie calls the, “Excessively literal, ‘Son of Man,’” (Dictionary of the Bible).

TO BEGIN to understand Bar Enasha, we may need to see it through a more nuanced translation, as well as through those dimensions of our own experience which parallel most closely the human reality Jesus was probing. Scripture scholar Walter Wink has suggested a linguistic approach to Bar Enasha emphasizing its collective meaning. Concerning, “Son of Man,” Wink says, “Son of,” is merely a Semitic idiom meaning, ‘Of or pertaining to the following genus or species.’ To translate Bar Enasha as the, ‘True Humanity,’ or the ‘Human Being,’ or your own, ‘Divinely revolutionized humanity,” or M.L. King’s, ‘Beloved Community,’ would all be better [than Son of Man].”
Thus, perhaps it is in terms of the, “Human Being,”–understood personally, collectively, and interchangeably with the synonyms suggested by Wink – that we can begin to understand this self-designation of Jesus, fraught with overtones of something about to happen: “But that you may know that the Human Being has authority on Earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home” (Mark 2:10-11). Bar Enshasa stands a theological junction. Besides having been Jesus’ way to refer to himself, Bar Enshasa was to become the basis for the Christian church’s doctrine of Jesus’ second coming. In almost every passage of the gospels that has been interpreted to mean Jesus’ Second Coming, Jesus refers specifically to himself as the, “Human Being.” A vivid instance is Jesus’ parousia saying, “The coming (parousia) of the Human Being will be like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into the west” (Matthew 24:27).
That Bar Enasha or, “Human Being,” by which Jesus identified himself and his vision has, in its original context in the Hebrew Scriptures, a collective meaning as well. Bar Enasha bridges two powerful concepts. What was to become for the church a statement of Jesus’ return in glory was, for Jesus himself, a vision of Israel’s and the world’s non-violent transformation. The Palestinian Jew, Jesus of Israel, envisioned for his people, and strove to create a nonviolent society based on faith, a reality which for us remains all but unthinkable. A recovery of his vision, within the visions of the Synoptic Gospels, can mean our seeing for the first time the non-violent coming of God, both then and now.

I believe that the Second Coming of Bar Enasha, as the, “Human Being,” Jesus Christ, is happening right now. Christ the human being is coming into the world today, as Martin Luther King realized when he said, “ I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that [people], in some strange way, are responding –something is happening in our world. The masses of people rising up. And wherever they are assembled today...the cry is always the same – ‘We want to be free.’ (I see the Promised Land.)” But this Second Coming of Bar Enasha, as identified prophetically by Martin Luther King, has been repressed in our consciousness and has gone unrecognized.