Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World
Pablo Picasso (via apoetreflects)
Catching up on my RSS, seeing these two from Marginal Revolution in close succession caught my attention. I had no idea:Suicides outnumber homicides in the United States by 3:1.Prescription painkillers now kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the CDC.
:( Take care.
I love the Nicene Creed. I love it maybe a bit too much. I love it because I am an intellectual and I like nice, crisp statements of belief that can be held on to. I love it for the same reason I went to law school and studied philosophy before that—because concepts have their own elegance and beauty. When Stendhal wrote that when he’s looking for style help he reads the Napoleonic Code, he could have been talking about the Creed, which is after all, in some sense, a juridical statement—whose legalism, in its economy, reveals an inner beauty.
One of my favorite things about the Creed, one I want to dwell on here, is that God is described as Factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium. What a great line.
First, we can note that God is described as Factorem, in other words, as Maker of heaven and earth. It’s not that God has made the Universe, it’s that he makes it. (Those with Greek knowledge can tell me if this interpretation is consistent with the Greek text.) Creation is not one discrete act, occurring at the starting point of history, but a continuous act of love.
The second thing here is that the Creed dwells on it. As I’ve written above, it’s a text of incredible economy. It is intended as a tight, concise statement of the faith, and yet here it allows itself some poetic license. Technically, it could have gone away with Factorem omnium. Here, we get a description, and a poetic one. Not “the Universe”; the Heavens (the Sky, an evocative poetic picture) and the Earth; all things visible and invisible. We see the poetry of what is apparently a dry juridical statement. (A most poetic moment later in the Creed is its Christological litany: Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deo vero de Deo vero, which is particularly stirring when it is lifted up in the Gregorian chant of the Creed.)
The third thing, and the one I’m getting to, the one which is only in the Nicene Creed, is this concept of visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
We have first this concept of omnium, which is a concept that gestures to something even bigger than the whole Universe. God is here proclaimed without a doubt as the maker of all, in the most complete way, but it is even more than that. God is proclaimed as the maker of “the All”. The Omnium is, in some mysterious way, a complete and coherent thing. It points to not only the idea of a Creation that encompasses the Universe and beyond but encompasses it as part of a divine order (and yet an order in movement, since God is maker, not just the One who made).
But—and, finally, I am starting to get to where I am going—we are told that there are two types of things among the all things that God created—things visible and things invisible. There is an Invisibilium Omnium. What a concept! Think of the visible Universe we see, with all its galaxies, its quantum mechanics, its cell division, its sunsets and sunrises, its flowers, its beauty, all its stupendous immensity! There is a whole nother invisible Universe out there! Which, presumably, is at least as large and stupendous and amazing as our visible Universe. This one word opens up a whole new vista of contemplation and thanksgiving. When I was a child, particularly, this notion of “the invisible universe” sent me to flights of imagination.
But there’s an even more striking thing, particularly for contemporary readers, about this: the Creed doesn’t proclaim belief in the Invisibilium Omnium. It doesn’t have us say “I believe there is an Invisible Universe.” It has us say “I believe God is the maker of the Invisible Universe.” It just takes it for granted that people believe in the Invisible Universe. Oh yeah, sure, everybody knows about the Invisible Universe—but did you know who created it? ([SLIDESHOW])
The Creed resolutely affirms by not only proclaiming but taking for granted an account of reality that says that what we see is not all we get. That the tangible reality is not the whole of reality. That there is something more, and that it truly exists.
It increasingly seems to me that in the Modern world, the first sign of contradiction of Christian belief is this belief in the Invisible Universe. I don’t mean ghosts and poltergeists and all that stuff (which the Church largely rejects as superstition). But all of the Invisible Universes in the world. The idea that all of matter and all of the tangible world we see around us is not the whole of Creation. That it all points to something else, something which is part of us and around us, in a mysterious way, which we cannot see. That there is not only some meaning but that this meaning is reality. That there are “more things in Heaven and Earth that are dreamt up in your philosophy.” That there must be something else. This, at the end of the day, is the line of separation between belief and unbelief.
The Invisible Universe has been a consistent theme of human imagination and progress, from Platonic Forms to Harry Potter. The idea of an Invisible Universe, parallel to our own, which bleeds into it, is one of the most recurrent motifs in fiction and human imagination. I think most all of us want there to be an Invisible Universe, but it is harder and harder to believe it.
(Here I think of a director like Terry Gilliam, much of whose artistic work—The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus—can be seen as explorations of the Invisible Universe and, a contrario, a film like Brazil can be seen as an exploration of what happens to the world when we think the Visible Universe is all there is, when we forget about the Invisible Universe. We have a world that is supposed to be well-ordered, where everything is supposed to make sense, and yet cruelly collapses upon its own absurdity.)
And I want to note that it is possible to believe in this Invisible Universe without mawkish sentimentality. It’s not “Oh, it was in your heart all along, Dorothy!” or whatever.
But while belief in the Invisible Universe does not make Christian belief necessary, I believe Christian belief makes belief in the Invisible Universe necessary. The entire root of Christian belief is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but if Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, it is not by the rules of the Visible Universe. The Visible Universe does not let the dead return.
(This is also a reason why Platonism and Christianity “meshed” so well, because they are both worldviews that point—up—to an Invisible Universe.)
This is just endlessly striking. It’s one of the things I love about the Creed. Every Sunday, we monotonically proclaim belief in these stupendous things, but we have to admit that most of the time we don’t pay them any attention. The Invisible Universe! How often to we hear about it? How often do we think about it?
As I said, this theme of the Invisible Universe has been with me since childhood (obviously a propitious time for thinking about Invisible Things), but I want to talk here about a theme I’ve only encountered recently, reading Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity.
When discussing the Trinity, he says something that is in retrospect obvious but which I’d never grasped so clearly, which is that the doctrine of the Trinity shows that the nature of being itself is relationship. To be a being is to be a being-in-relation.
Which naturally poses the question: in relation to what?
The obvious first answer is in relation to other beings.
But there is another answer, which is in relation to Creation.
Which brings us to one of my favorite themes in theology, which is the concept of co-creation. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the concept of co-creation is becoming central to my theology. I tend to be distrustful of it because I like to think of myself as a creative person, and so I am instinctively wary of a theology that says that the stuff I like about me is really important.
We humans are co-creators of the Universe. And perhaps our powers of co-creation are nowhere more visible (ha) than in the Invisible Universe.
As Vladimir Volkoff put it, citing Talmudic tradition (if readers have the specific references I’d love it), God created the Universe with holes in it. And He created it with, say, a hole in the “shape” of Beethoven’s 9th. Various creators sense the hole, and try to build something with the shape that fits the hole. Some get closer than others, and—hopefully—one gets it right.
God is Creator and by virtue of our Imago Dei so are we. The concept of co-creation is important because it flows from two fundamental concepts, which is that of freedom and that of our relationship with God, whether seen as theosis, Covenant, or vocation, all of these pointing to a same reality. “God became Man so that man could become [like/with] God.” There is man in God but there is God in man, and so as God is creator so must we be. As beings-in-relation, we are in relation to the Triune, Factorem God, in relation with Creation, and we are in relation with Creation, which is being made, with us, free, in it, to participate in this work.
This account of the Invisible Universe, and being-in-relationship and co-creation, I think, gives us an interesting account of the Fall.
First, it points to a “definition” of prelapsarian times and the Garden of Eden as a time when the Invisible Universe wasn’t invisible. The best evidence of this, I think, is the facility with which Adam converses with, and even “hangs out” with God. God is as present all around us and with us as He was in the Garden of Eden, and talks to us and we can talk back, but it is much, much harder to see and talk to Him now. This notion of the Fall being a sort of “divorce” between the Visible and Invisible Universes is also hinted at by the fact that the Fall affects our sight: nakedness becomes a problem—is seen—for the first time.
The fact of the Fall, taken together with the concepts of Invisible Universe and of co-creation, also points to something else: we often see primarily original sin as affecting our natures. But there is something else that it affects: creation as a whole. After all, after the Fall, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden, but it seems it’s better to say it’s destroyed. A veil falls between Visible and Invisible. We are blinded.
All of which is to say that, under this reading, the Fall did not just change human nature, it changed the fabric of the Universe itself. God made us co-creators, and in our pride we introduced brokenness into creation—into our very natures but also into the Universe.
(Here I am reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s very Christian creation myth, where the world is created by the “Great Music of the Ainur,” angels of God, Eru Illuvatar (“Eru” meaning “The One” and Illuvatar meaning “Father of All”). The most brilliant angel, Melkor (standing for Lucifer), adds to the Music, thereby corrupting it. Tolkien writes that Melkor does not at first intend to bring corruption to Creation, but rather that he does so through his pride, by showing off and adding elements to the Music meant to testify to his own brilliance rather than complementing and magnifying the whole.)
This idea has importance for theodicy, since it strengthens the strongest theodicy, the theodicy of freedom: evil must be allowed so that men may be free. But this theodicy does not account for things like natural disasters—unless we understand man as co-creator and understand our Fall as affecting the whole Universe. God really did roll the dice with the Universe. Our freedom is embedded into the very fabric of creation, with all the good and bad that that entails. (You can insert your own vulgarization of quantum mechanics here.)
Of course, the only good theodicy is Incarnation, but it’s still fun to think about.
With this idea we see a vision of Man as truly co-creator and truly a being-in-relation not just to God and to fellow men but also to the visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
If we look at this vision of the Fall, we then suddenly get a clearer picture of the Atonement on the Cross.
If by his co-creation and his being-in-relation to the visibilium omnium et invisibilium Adam could change not only human nature but the fabric of the whole Universe, then we have a much clearer vision of what happened on the Cross.
If we are all beings-in-relation, if we are all co-creators who change the world both visibly and invisibly, and if one Man could shake up the Universe…then if a New Adam came along, if a perfect man could make a perfect gift, then of course this perfect gift would, in turn, change the whole fabric of the Universe and be available to all other beings-in-relation and remain forever a part of (at least) the invisibilium omnium.
To put it somewhat crudely, if Beethoven can reach out across the centuries and touch me—and, in some sense, since his creation is part of the Invisible Universe, not just metaphorically—then how much truer and how much tangible it is that 2000 years later Christ’s crucifixion—that specific, historic event and not just the crucifixion-as-concept—can touch me now!
To see things that way requires only that we take seriously the notion of men as co-creators—that is to say, that when we human beings create, we don’t just “make things”, we, in a real, profound way, change the Universe. Once we take this idea seriously, Atonement via the Cross becomes much easier to understand. I think.
It allows us to swiftly do away with juridical-penal views of Atonement which make Jesus a prisoner and God an accountant.
Because God is a creative being-in-relation, he is Factorem visibilium omnium et invisibilium; because he is love, he made Man as co-creator and made Man free, and played dice with the Universe, letting us insert disorder within the order of Creation. Because God loves us, He had to save us. But because God loves us, He couldn’t do it in a way that took away our freedom, so He had to do it from within Creation (inside the Matrix!), not only by becoming Man but by participating in the work of co-creation as man, thereby inserting (if you will) order within the disorder within the order of the Universe. Where the Fall was insubmission, the new creation was to be submission. Where the Fall was selfish, the new creation was to be loving. For this creation to shake up the whole world, it had to be perfect, meaning total, meaning unto death. It had to restore creation, love, sonship and freedom at the axis of the Universe.
Thus, the Cross.
(I’m sure everything I’ve just written was roundly condemned as heresy under an inscrutable name some time in the 5th century.)
(Part of the #PEG Theology Series.)