Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Christ fulfills culture

Francisco asks an interesting question. Is the contemporary Catholic subculture strong enough? My immediate reaction to this is that, for our sake, we might hope that we are not.

The paradox of the Church's history is that when she is at her weakest, when she stands no chance of overcoming the impending downfall of man, that is when the Spirit "comes to the aid of our weakness" (Rom. 8:26). Salvation history is full of almost redundant stories of Israel growing rich and lazy, and then God taking away Israel's riches and forcing her to become strong. That, I think, may be what is happening today as society and the state grow less tolerant of the moral and personalistic foundations that constitute "Life in Christ."

In terms of which model of Christ in Culture is the correct one, what makes the first two models erroneous is that operative term "total," which Christopher used to describe Christ against culture. No, Christ will never be totally against culture. But he will always challenge some aspects of every culture. Is he, then, against some things? Sure he is, and we should not be afraid to say it. Exclusively positivist vocabulary to describe the work of Christ in the world can be a turnoff for some people. God hates sin. He is against it. All cultures are infected with its cancer in some way, and that's why it is erroneous to say that Christ is totally for every culture. But human culture is not just a hive of wrongdoing, and that's why it's erroneous to say Christ is totally against culture.

If it were up to me to employ my own phraseology, I'd say Christ fulfills culture. "Culture," after all, comes from the Latin term meaning "worship." (Josef Pieper writes beautifully about this in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture.) Culture in its purest sense is precisely the ways that persons come together to reflect the beauty and truth and goodness whose source is the divine. Culture losing its very meaning when it is not seen in relation to this original source. Christ is the one who makes man the entirety of what he was meant to be at the dawn of his creation. He "breaks down the walls of sin and division" and unites people in his Mystical Body, the Church. Culture par excellence is the Church.

In Christ "culture" fully achieves the true, the good, and the beautiful in its various arts and literature and politics etc., because Christ is himself the singular expression of all the Truths and Goods and Beauties at which those fields aim. Without him, the culture dissolves into something less than "culture" in the classic sense. It becomes a valueless state, and history tells us that those don't last very long. And when they finally collapse, what is left, through the natural course of things, is that smaller core community of persons who never took their eyes off of the true, the good, and the beautiful, i.e., Jesus.