Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Souls and the requisite Celtic spirit

For me the connection between All Saints/All Souls and Samhain, far from being off-putting, is beautiful. As contemporary Irish theologian James P. Mackey asserts, in his one volume systematic theology, Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions (a book with many deep flaws, but also containing a number of good insights- not least among which is his attempted rehabilitation of Pelagius), every authentically human culture has something like it's own Old Testament. Isn't it lovely the Church has sought to recognize this in her mission ad gentes (the times she has not done so are low ebbs in her history) and to embrace what is already good and redeem what is not?

The denial of what Mackey asserts, to pick up a discussion I was having with some friends about the defectiveness of one of Chesterton's far too smug and overly generalized denunciations of "Protestantism," is where theologians, like Karl Barth, at least to my mind, get it wrong. Is Jesus Christ the fulfillment of all human longing and seeking, or something apart from that, crashing in from nowhere, as it were? This is but one place where Barth's analogia Christi breaks down. I think, despite his best effort, Balthasar did not succeed in showing how Barth's analogia Christi is really the analogia entis.

Van Morrison and The Chieftans singing "Celtic Ray"

When the coal brick man comes 'round
On a cold November day
You'll be on the Celtic Ray
Are you ready? Are you ready?

Of what relevance is any of this? I think it has to do with the Christian stance towards culture. As Catholics, as the All Saints/All Souls/Samhain connection shows, we stand within culture and act as leaven. We don't stand apart from culture, denouncing and denigrating it. After all, only love can redeem. Of course, this does not mean accepting the world on the world's terms, but transforming the world. Look at how quickly and easily Jesus appealed to the Celtic heart and took root in it. It is easy now, in this age of forgetting, to underestimate the impact of the Celtic encounter on Christianity, which has never been the same since, but Celtic culture was even more transformed by the Gospel.

Pope John Paul II's cultural resistance to the Nazis is, for me, his most inspiring exploit, in a life full of such exploits. It strikes me as an embodiment of something like this same thing among the Slavs and the gift of the Poles to the Western Church. As my friend Artur continually demonstrates quite regularly on his blog CosmosTheInLost and elsewhere, Czesław Miłosz embodies this as well.

Where we locate ourselves with regard to the prevailing culture, as Pope Francis (and certainly Giussani did as well) grasps, is what will make all the difference for the so-called New Evangelization.

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