Franciscan Incarnational Theology

ThirdSpace met yesterday (Wednesday) evening at Holly House to learn about Franciscan Incarnational Theology.

A member of our community introduced the subject, followed by questions and discussion.

Incarnation instead of atonement. (Richard Rohr).

Franciscans never believed that “blood atonement” was required for God to love us. Our teacher, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), said Christ was Plan A from the very beginning (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14). Christ wasn’t a mere Plan B after the first humans sinned, which is the way most people seem to understand the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Mystery of Incarnation could not be a mere mop-up exercise, a problem solving technique, or dependent on human beings messing up.

Scotus taught that the Enfleshment of God had to proceed from God’s perfect love and God’s perfect and absolute freedom (John 1:1-18), rather than from any mistake of ours. Did God intend no meaning or purpose for creation during the first 14.8 billion years? Was it all just empty, waiting for sinful humans to set the only real drama into motion? Did the sun, moon, and galaxies have no divine significance? The fish, the birds, the animals were just waiting for humans to appear? Was there no Divine Blueprint (“Logos”) from the beginning? Surely this is the extreme hubris and anthropomorphism of the human species!

The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) seems to imply that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out. I know there are many temple metaphors of atonement, satisfaction, ransom, “paying the price,” and “opening the gates”; but do know they are just that—metaphors of transformation and transitioning. Too many Christians understood these in a transactional way instead of a transformational way.

How and why would God need a “blood sacrifice” before God could love what God had created? Is God that needy, unfree, unloving, rule-bound, and unable to forgive? Once you say it, you see it creates a nonsensical theological notion that is very hard to defend. Many rightly or wrongly wondered, “What will God ask of me if God demands violent blood sacrifice from his only Son?” Particularly if they had a rageaholic or abusive parent, they were already programmed to believe in punishment as the shape of the universe. A violent theory of redemption legitimated punitive and violent problem solving all the way down—from papacy to parenting. There eventually emerged a disconnect between the founding story of necessary punishment and Jesus’ message. If God uses and needs violence to attain God’s purposes, maybe Jesus did not really mean what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and violent means are really good and necessary. Thus our history.

In Franciscan parlance, Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. This grounds Christianity in pure love and perfect freedom from the very beginning. It creates a very coherent and utterly positive spirituality, which draws people toward lives of inner depth, prayer, reconciliation, healing, and even universal “at-one-ment,” instead of mere sacrificial atonement. Nothing changed on Calvary, but everything was revealed as God’s suffering love—so that we could change! (Please read that again.)

Jesus was precisely the “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27) sacrifice given to reveal the lie and absurdity of the very notion and necessity of “sacrificial” religion itself. Heroic sacrifices to earn God’s love are over! That’s much of the point of Hebrews 10 if you are willing to read it with new eyes. But we perpetuated such regressive and sacrificial patterns by making God the Father into the Chief Sacrificer, and Jesus into the necessary victim. Is that the only reason to love Jesus?

This perspective allowed us to ignore Jesus’ lifestyle and preaching, because all we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. This is no exaggeration. The irony is that Jesus undoes, undercuts, and defeats the sacrificial game. Stop counting, measuring, deserving, judging, and punishing, which many Christians are very well trained in—because they believe that was the way God operated too. This is no small thing. It makes the abundant world of grace largely inaccessible—which is, of course, the whole point.

It is and has always been about love from the very beginning.

 

THISNESS

I have the immense joy of being a [human being], a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. —Thomas Merton [1]

You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:14, 16

A mystic—like Merton, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, John Duns Scotus, and many others—is one who recognizes God’s image and likeness in this human being, in this creature, in this moment, and from that encounter with the sacred comes to see God everywhere and always. The mystic cannot help but love and have compassion for what is right in front of them. God’s indwelling presence—in every created thing—is inherent and cannot be earned or destroyed.

In her book, Scotus for Dunces, Mary Beth Ingham writes:

Haecceitas points to the ineffable within each being. . . . According to Scotus, the created order is not best understood as a transparent medium through which divine light [from the outside] shines (as Aquinas taught), but is itself endowed with an inner light that shines forth from within. [This is like the] difference between a window (Aquinas) and a lamp (Scotus). Both give light, but the source of light for Scotus has already been given to the being by the creator. Each being . . . possesses an immanent dignity; it is already gifted by the loving Creator with a sanctity beyond our ability to understand. . . .

Once we recognize the value of nature, of others, and of ourselves, we are called to act in imago Christi, as images of Christ who embodied divine love. [2]

At a CAC conference many years ago, Ingham reflected:

In the most concrete we discover the most ultimate. That is what it means for God to become one of us. The concrete individual who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth, was both divine and human.

And so, what does this mean for us? We are called to see the greatness of God in the smallest of things. We see divinity within humanity. We discover in ourselves a light within, and we discover in every human being, and as Scotus teaches, in everything that exists, an inner light that is a gift from God. [3]

When we become open and receptive to the ordinary, we discover:

The one is the way to the many.
The specific is the way to the spacious.
The now is the way to always.
The here is the way to the everywhere.
The material is the way to the spiritual.
The visible is the way to the invisible.

REFERENCES:

1              Incarnation instead of atonement

Richard Rohr, OFM

Daily meditations

12.02.2016

Printed verso

https://cac.org

2              Revisiting the Franciscan Doctrine of Christ

Ilia Delio, OSF

Theological Studies 64 (2003)

3              Incarnation in Franciscan Spirituality

Seamus Mulholland, OFM

The Franciscan, January 2001

4              St Francis and the incarnation

John Quigley, OFM

www.franciscanmedia.org

December 2012

5              Things hidden

Richard Rohr, OFM

SPCK, 2016

See especially Chapter 9 and most especially pp 195-200

 

Bible references:

John 1: 1-18; 3:13; 8:28; 12:31; 15:15; 19:37

1 Corinthians: 1:8; 2:8; 2:16: 2 Corinthians 5:21

Colossians 1: 15-20; Galatians 6:16

Ephesians 1: 3-14; 20-23

Hebrews 7: 27; 10

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