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Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Fr. Bruno Forte



A similar circularity is affirmed – in a more direct relationship with the analysis of the historical present – by theologies of praxis, narrative and politics: "To reflect starting from the liberating historical praxis is equivalent to reflecting under the light of the future over what is believed and hoped, over a transforming action of the present, not in vitro, but basing one’s self where one stands, in this given moment, on the pulse of history, thus bringing light to the present with the Word of the Lord of history, the Lord who definitively committed himself to the today of the future of humanity in order to bring it to its fulfillment." (36) The Master is He who has his hands soiled with the real history of men, making it the history of God with them and hence the journey of their full and lasting liberation: to listen to him and follow him means to live the effort of taking seriously the two forms of hope "that ought to be continually maintained and critically connected to each other... on one hand, the whole tradition of the great Judeo-Christian movement, and on the other hand the new human experience that Christians and non-Christians today make." (37) Also here it is the hermeneutic circularity subject-object, the reciprocal relationship that subsists in history between the Word that is to come and the human situations, a relationship that gives rise to thought and to the practice of faith: not in the sense of reducing the Word to history, nor in that of deducing history from the Word, but in the living and strong sense of reading the Word in all its norms, in history, and reading history in all its precariousness and complexity, in the Word. The exodus opens up to advent, and advent comes to dwell in the exodus, and this way it draws the future of God in the present of men who like him accept to live for the Other, for the others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from the prison where the Nazist barbaric deeds had confined him in view of martyrdom: "The to be there for the others of Jesus is the experience of transcendence! It is only from freedom from one’s self, only from being-there-for-the others until death that omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence is born. Faith is participation to this being of Jesus... Our relationship with God is not a "religious" relationship with a being, the highest, the strongest, the best that one can ever think of – this is not authentic transcendence – but a new life in the being-there-for-the others, in participation to Jesus’ being. The transcendent is not the infinite, unreachable involvement, but the neighbor who is given from time to time, who is reachable. God in human form!... the man for others, hence the crucified. The man who lives beginning from the transcendent.(38) Thus Jesus is Master, not as an exterior and distant model, but as the near God, suffering, beside us, in us, alive in the tensions of history: "Jesus Christ is not placed before reality as a stranger: he alone has brought and experienced in his own body the essence of the real and draws from it words that no one else on earth knows how to say; he alone is not fallen into ideology but he is the pure real and simple being who in himself has fulfilled the essence of history and has personified its law." (39) Jesus is the Master because He alone puts the Last at the center and into the heart of the second to the last: "Only Christ gives us the ultimate reality, the justification of our life before God, but, in spite of this, indeed, because of this, the penultimate realities are not taken or spared from us... Christian life is the dawning of the final realities in me, it is the life of Jesus Christ in me; but it always is to live in the penultimate realities in expectation of those supreme." (40)

Thus is drawn a theology of Jesus Master that hold together the three entrances of history, and be, therefore, strongly biblical and rich in the listening to the living testimony of the past origins of faith, densely existential and concrete, attentive to the complexity of the present wherein it is produced, eager to conjugate, in the end, the two dimensions into one permanent openness to the new of God’s promise. Of a similar undertaking the Vatican Council II has offered an emblematic testimony: rich in memory of the Word of God and of the Fathers, attentive to the company of men of the contemporary world, it placed itself as prophecy of the future, a new beginning of the historical situation of Christianity. The Council of history, Vatican II has assumed it in the memory of the origin, in the conscience of the present and in the rediscovered openness to the future, which not only determines the eschatological worth of the pilgrim Church, but offers the vastest horizons for the presence and the action of the people of God in the affairs of the world. This strong perception of being among the times has permitted to the Council’s reflection that of connecting exodus and advent in the most faithful manner to the complexity of the ecclesial and worldly lived experience: the sense of Mystery and the primacy of the Word of God is connected there to the solicitude – at times even too optimistic – for the modern man; the sense of communion rooted in the depths of the Holy Trinity is there bound to the underlining of the historical condition of the People of God and of its relations with the complexity of the human; the sense of eschatology is to be translated into a strong reminder for perennial conversion and reform. In this light Jesus Master offers himself truly as the meaning and the hope of history: "The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised for all, can show man the way and strengthen him through the spirit in order to be worth of his destiny; nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which they can be saved. The Church likewise believes that the key, the center and the purpose of the whole of man’s history is to be found in its Lord and Master." (41) The Master is the revelation of the human heart, the new life of the world: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling." (42)

It is this historical conscience of faith that the Tertio Millennio Adveniente (43) has taken for its own, re-reading the journey of the centuries beginning from the advent of Jesus Christ, Master and Lord, "new beginning of all things," (44) according to a "theology of history," that recognizes at the same time the drama of the "mysterium iniquitatis" (also among the children of the Church) and the consoling certainty of God’s fidelity that works through the Spirit in time. Thus this reading of faith meets the restlessness of the post-modern era, marked by the crisis of ideological certainties and by the feeling of wreckage and fall that the same restlessness brought about in many. For the Christian faith, the death of the Crucified is the death of death because He who dies is the Lord of life: the "theology of history" is none else but the effort of proving right – face to face with the pain of time – this hope drawn by the Cross of the Son of God. The same question of the cross of history has motivated deeply the modern "philosophies of history," whose parable of triumph and of decadence re-proposes with a new currency on this end of the millennium the scandal of the Cross of the Son of God as the only possible meaning of the suffering of becoming and hence as foundation and central content of a vision of the world and of life that could give meaning and hope to history. When the violence used on the real by ideology clashed with the hard resistance of the real, it emerged clear that it is not enough to change the world and the life of thought and then later effectively change them in the concrete complexity that characterizes it. The crisis of ideologies of historical progress is the crisis of a closed totality, it is the break of a horizon that has willed to impose itself as the last, and that – precisely in the fragility and in the incompleteness of what it has produced – has been clearly manifested as the second to the last.

Certainly, the fall of totalitarian systems can give also the place to their simple overturning to a sort of negative totality, of love for darkness: an obvious proof of this possibility is nihilism’s success, something that the dialectic overcoming of the modern reason assumes in many forms of the so-called "postmodern" times. There, where ideology used to offer a meaning to everything, the non-meaning seems to triumph now on all things and the indifference, as loss of taste to raise the question about meaning, seems to become the dominant attitude. The fascination of a weak thought finds its way, weak thought that negates all the presumptions of the strong thought while keeping from it nonetheless a single and the most terrible one: that of embracing the entire horizon. If nothing is all turned upside down, and the non-meaning is the simple negation that may have a meaning, the horizon remains low: the strange country, that seemed facing the beyond of the twilight of modern reason, remains a forgotten land, a somewhere else not taken seriously to the end... It is here that emerges the last challenge that a theology on Jesus Master of man and of history, rich with the inheritance of the Christian pilgrimage through time, can offer to the conscience of everyone of our present time: a similar theology shall have above all to witness to the Advent that the Lord and Master places before us and hence to show the objective strength of the salvation that in Christ reaches all things and makes itself present in every single human being calling it to the supreme decision (the "Nolite timere. Ego vobiscum sum" of the life program of Fr. Alberione, referred to Jesus Master). However, it must nevertheless offer the meaning that the light of the God who comes casts on the humble days of the exodus and to redeem not only the today of decision, with its no and its transforming yes, but also the works and the days that precede and follow it (the "Ab hinc illuminare volo" of the same dream of Alberione that shows how "all the light has to be received from Jesus Master"). The theology of history offers itself in this perspective as a theology of hope founded on the Trinitarian event of the Cross and the Resurrection of the Son, and hence of continuous reform, that provokes the heart of single individuals and of the Church to turn themselves into the fertile ground of the advent of the uncatchable newness of the God of life and of history (the "Pœnitens cor tenete", that completes Alberione’s life program). Jesus Master thus becomes the promise and the challenge of the new eras, unveiled by the ebb of the "short century" and by the end of the totalitarian myths that so dramatically marked it: "Christianity, today, " Luigi Pareyson wrote, "is not something before which one could remain indifferent. One must choose either for or against. There is no half way: every intermediate position has been swept away by the crisis of modern culture." (45) Before the Master who comes and calls one must make a choice: "il faut choisir!(46) (return to summary)

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           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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