Thursday, September 17, 2015

Salvation in History

"I think, therefore I am."   -- Rene Descartes, French philosophe

Not the least of accomplishments, the late Pope John Paul II was an artist, an actor, an able statesman for his Polish homeland, exhibiting both bold love for the people, and courage against their Communist oppressors; as well, he was a highly articulate Pastor, tending his flock as priest, bishop and later as Pope, the spiritual leader of the world's Roman Catholic Christians.

Despite his high scholarship and extensive intellectual abilities, it is sometimes less known that John Paul possessed a formidable intellect for the humanities, the sciences, mathematics and philosophy of all kinds. He had a great interest in astronomy. In one of his many works of literature and philosophy, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul chooses as his subject, salvation in history. Why does the Christian story of Jesus seem so complicated? Is God really so loving? What about other faith groups who look to their traditions for wholeness, peace, for salvation, for unity? John Paul II (JP II) muses that the answers are long, yet he endeavors to make them simple in this essay for those who are not philosophers, to better carry the message of salvation, as he sees it.

"To be redeemed in salvation, is a profound question." Many faiths' practice for spiritual redemption; it is not limited to Christians. Jews and Buddhists are two other faiths that come to mind. In history, salvation in the west finds its modern roots in the teaching of the Enlightenment thinkers of Europe. John Paul writes, "I put Descartes at the forefront, because he marks the beginning of a new era of European thought, and because this philosopher, who certainly is the greatest France has given the world, inaugurated a great shift in philosophy: 'I think, therefore I am'...the motto of modern rationalism."

"The objective truth of this thought is not as important as the fact that something exists in human consciousness." Descartes inaugurates the modern development of the sciences, including those humanistic sciences, ushering in the new, modern age of western thought.

The French Enlightenment ushered in the "cult of the goddess of reason." To those minds shaped by a naturalistic consciousness of the world, God is decidedly outside of the world. "God working through man turned out to be modern science, to modern knowledge...which examines the workings of the conscious, the unconsciousness. The Enlightenment, thus, put God, the redeemer to one side."

Consequently, man, divorced from traditions of faith, of spirit, is now expected to live by reason alone. The collected wisdom of the ages, ever present in traditional society is cast aside in favor of reason alone. The presence of a divine Creator, a loving intellect that knows the heart of his creation, that so loved the world, does not need God's love.

The modern world is self sufficient; thus this world must be the world that makes man happy.
Yet in the world today, man continues to suffer in body and mind, in poverty and neglect, in loneliness and greed, this world suffers alienation, aimlessness, anxiety, poverty, and suffers alone. Science has not been its help.

"This world,' says JP II, 'in which knowledge is developed by man, which appears as progress and civilization, as a modern system of communication, in a structure of democratic freedoms without limits, is today a world in which man suffers." The world is not capable, despite its reason, to make man happy, to free him from his sufferings, his pain, his death; it cannot save man from evil, illness or catastrophes. Still, now today, the world needs, wants to be saved, to be redeemed and renewed.

Immortality is not part of the world; that is why the Christ speaks in the Gospels of God's love which expresses itself in the offering of his son, so that man may not perish, but have life, eternal. He came that man might be free in love, to lift him and embrace in a redeeming love. For love is always greater than any force of evil."

"The Easter story is the culmination of the story of the "return," of redemption possible and available to all humankind. The history of salvation "not only addresses the question of human history, but also confronts the problem of the meaning of man's existence. It is both a confrontation of history and metaphysics; the encounters between man and God in the world, the divine mysteries of souls constitutes the modern Church." --paraphrased.

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