Redeemer of Man, On peering into the Gospel


The Redeemer of Man, the first encyclical, follows the way of faith and reason; but faith must take a priority in the opening of the theme and the ultimate resolution. But reason in its turn will be needed to highlight the crisis of our time and provide the analysis of the human person that leads back to faith. As John Paul said in Fides et ratio — “each without the other is impoverished and enfeebled. Deprived of what Revelation offers, reason has taken side-tracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so run the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. ” §48

The central motif is “Redeemer.” For this term to be more than a sentimental term, we must understand the central claims of Christianity upon which the Church is built and about which the Pope fashions his message for the modern age. The facts upon which we must begin are the Incarnation and the Passion of Jesus Christ. Man is redeemed because of the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ. Now the Pope would have us enter the mystery of redemption through faith, of course, but he will take us back to the human condition and the historical situation so that we may grasp the full significance and meaning of our redemption.

I should like to step back further and borrow from Newman to understand the notion of fact that grounds the Church’s approach to man and the world.

In his work, Difficulties of Anglicans (1850) Newman discusses how the liturgy and external trappings of Catholic faith protect a mystery; not only this, he says, “they [also] defend a dogma; they represent an idea; they preach good tidings; they are the channels of grace. They are the outward shape of an inward reality or fact, which no Catholic doubts, which is assumed as a first principle, which is not an inference of reason, but the object of a spiritual sense. Herein is the strength of the Church . . . . She professes to be built upon facts, not opinions; on objective truths, not on variable sentiments; on immemorial testimony, not on private judgment; on convictions or perceptions, not on conclusions.”

John Paul II says that the the mystery of redemption is the sphere in which the Church dwells; it is “the principle of her life and mission.” (§7) He agrees with Newman here, faith provides a “principle.” So he rightly will focus on Christ — his intellect, will and heart — and “follow him” dwelling on his words and the details of his life. But herewith is the great discovery — Christ as man “reveals man to himself.” (§8) As mentioned in the previous blog we have here the touchstone of Wojtyla’s thought and the key to the Vatican Council, found in §22 of Gaudium et spes. Friends, copy this out, refer to it frequently, commit it to heart: “Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. . . . Christ fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (§22)

Peering into the Gospel we discover our Redeemer, and we discover our true and better self. In an age of despair, with its on-going “self-belittlement of man” (as Nietszche said in his Genealogy of Morals) and its secret self-accusation of worthlessness, Christ restores the true image of man and dignifies human life. Each human life bears this dignity. For we read in GS §22 the simple but moving passage that he, Christ, “worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, loved with a human heart.” He did all things well, and we can enter into his way, and strive to live his teaching, the beatitudes. This, namely Incarnation, is true redemption. And there is more.

Jesus Christ lived from a mysterious depth of love, in relationship to his Father (Abba); he reconciled his brothers and sisters with the Father, after human beings had abandoned and spurned him. (Redemptor §9) In the words and life of Jesus we see the truth of sonship set against the lies told about the Father as tyrant. Yes, peering into the Gospel of Christ we see the liberating truth that “God is love.” Love is greater than sin, love is greater than weakness, love is stronger than death. The passion and death and resurrection of Christ tells it all, this triumph of love. It cannot fail to stir a hope beyond hope, if we but look, if we but peer into that book, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The love and enthusiasm for Jesus reverberates throughout ones whole being, when one learns of the unbounded love of the Father “always ready to raise up and forgive, always ready to go to meet the prodigal son.” (§9) Oh, but peer into the Gospel, into that mystery as did Rembrandt, Tolstoy, Bach, Gorecki, Herbert, Shakespeare, Rouault and Dante — there are songs in there, and brilliant light and colors; there are stories that ring so true; there is a way and a life. But peer in and you shall behold the truth of Wojtyla’s primary fact: “Christ fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”.

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