Christophanic Communion: Vatican II and Raimon Panikkar 2023

Hello, my name is Bobby Nichols and I’m a graduate student at Villanova University.  Thank you for coming. [Begins paper] At the start of the Second Vatican Council on October 11,  1962, Raimon Panikkar was 43 years old, had only been an ordained priest for 16 years,  and had a limited number of published works. Nonetheless, his experience in India and encounter  with Hinduism warranted him an invitation to attend the Second Vatican Council. While likely  valuable, Panikkar’s presence with the Council fathers could not be considered a monumental  contribution as little accreditation is given to him on any council documents.

The influence  of the Second Vatican Council on Panikkar, on the other hand, cannot go understated.  Panikkar understood Vatican II as a landmark historical moment that provided a new theological  reflection for “Christians looking for an identity that does not betray their tradition and yet does  justice to a new awareness” of the world. When the Council closed on December 7, 1965,  Vatican II unlocked new doors for the Church, and in the decades following,  Raimon Panikkar widening those doors, welcoming a communion where “every being is a Christophany.” The Second Vatican Council “attempted different ways to overcome the restlessness  of peoples’ hearts” and move closer to answering “the unsolved riddles of human  existence.” The Church affirmed its responsibility to respond to the “grief and anguish,  as well as joys and hopes,” afflicting humanity and “interpret them in the light of the  Gospel,” to “fashion a world better suited to the surpassing dignity of humanity.

” By acknowledging  humanity’s shared communion, Vatican II unlocked Christian consciousness to recognize that  every person on Earth “all share a common destiny, namely God.” The two documents at the forefront  of this effort were “Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian  Religions” and “Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.” Promulgated on October 28, 1965, Nostra Aetate opened the doors for expanded  dialogue with non-Christian brothers and sisters and boldly stated that the Church  “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religious traditions.

Assessing Nostra Aetate’s  teaching, Francis X. Clooney, SJ, considers the document a continuation of the Church’s tradition  while also being “strikingly distinctive” in its openness to non-Abrahamic religions.

  The Catholic Church established a precedent with Nostra Aetate “encouraging,  even mandating, a deepening of inter-religious learning” and dialogue with other religions. The church, therefore, urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity  into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while  witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, persevere and encourage the spiritual  and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture. This expanded dialogue carved out a space for the nations of the world and people of  all faith traditions into a communion of shared human dignity and pursuit of the common good. Continuing this pursuit for the common good, Gaudium et Spes,  the final document of the Second Vatican Council, promulgated on December 7, 1965, established a new  position for the Church with its “expression of an intimate bond and solidarity with humanity.

”12  Situating itself “in the world of today,” the Church addressed, for the first time,  not only Catholics and other Christian Traditions, but the “whole of humanity as well.” Gaudium et  Spes recognized the human person as a social, intelligent being, motivated by a conscience,  striving for freedom, and guided by the Spirit to be in service to and for one another. All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all people of good will  in whose hearts grace is actively visible.

For since Christ died for everyone, and since all  are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit  offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God,  in the paschal mystery. Such is the nature of the greatness of the mystery of humankind.

 By instituting this new anthropology of the human person, encompassed by Christ, the Second Vatican  Council forever “inspired believers to take their transformative role in society seriously”  as members of both Church and the world. Believing firmly in his Roman Catholic faith  and inspired by Vatican II, Raimon Panikkar widened the Church’s doors transforming how  Catholics understand inter-religious and inter-cultural engagement.

For Panikkar,  the Second Vatican Council was an opportunity for Catholics to “accept the interpellation  of other cultures and open [themselves] to all the areas of the world that are not part of  the Abrahamitic culture.”22 Vatican II was, for Panikkar, “the opening bar to a piece of music  rather than the closing one,” whose tune would continue to reverberate through time. As Panikkar struck the newly unlocked keys of Vatican II, he discovered Christological chords  “deaf to the cries of men and especially women.

”24 Panikkar lauds the Council and its efforts with  Nostra Aetate, noting “for the first time in church history an ecumenical council not only  recognized that [non-Christian] religions have a right to exist but even praised them.” However,  immediately following his praise of the Council, Panikkar strikes a discord with the fact that “no  need was felt [by the Council fathers] to invite representatives of [non-Christian]  religions to speak for themselves.” Christian history failed to enter into genuine dialogue.  The “Christology that has reached us today” has reduced the contributions of the Americas,  and the insights of “Asia, Africa, and Oceania have been practically nil.”  According to Panikkar, Christians lack a global, holistic perspective of Christ.

Christology is  relegated to a culture of foreign conquerors and invaders that used christological images  as a means for war and a weapon for colonization. Following the opening notes of the Council,  Panikkar listened to the signs of the time and interpreted them in the light of Vatican II.  Panikkar composed a new hermeneutics that visions “an image of Christ that all people are capable  of believing in, especially those contemporaries who, while wishing to remain open and tolerant,  think they have no need of either diluting their ‘Christianity’ or of demanding their fidelity to  Christ.”Elements of the Second Vatican Council that “looked, respectively,  to the present (aggiornamento), the future (development), and the past (ressourcement)”  provide a guide for understanding Panikkar’s hermeneutics. His hermeneutics implies both  continuity and change to the dynamic mystery of Christ that includes “the figure of the historical  past and the reality of the present.

” His hermeneutics is a development of the collaboration  with members of other religions to seek a better understanding of ourselves and “integrate…  how others intemperate us.” The “Christological tradition of the past two millennia” is the muse,  not an impediment, for Panikkar’s expansive inter-cultural and inter-religious ensemble.

 Christophany, “under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God,  the firstborn of all creation,” illuminates every being.

Bobby Nichols --

Christ is not only bound to God,  “but to [humanity] as well: ‘the mystery of [humanity] is seen in its proper light  in the mystery of the Word incarnate.” The Word of Christ, which is in “intimate relation with the  whole of creation,”invites Christians to discover the “cosmic church…

mystērion tou kosmou… the  sacramentum mundi, the mystery of the universe” at heart in Panikkar’s Christophanic hermeneutics.  To understand that the Word, that life itself, is “imbued with a deep religious sense,”  Panikkar suggests three co-equal approaches: Individualistic, Personalistic,  Ādhyātmic, or Pneumestic.

In the Individualistic approach,  Panikkar signals first to the particularity of oneself but cautions against the Western myth of  individuality that seeks to isolate oneself from others. Rooting not in individualistic  isolation but communal love, for “it is only within ourselves that we can meet—and  perhaps understand—the mystery of someone else’s identity.” An individual’s unique subtleties  mirrors creation’s unique distinctions implying a need for continual engagement and dialogue. In the second Personalistic approach, Panikkar invites the individual to  recognize their web of relationships.

“There is no I without the you,” every individual,  every being of creation is relational.

Each person came into existence because of the relationship  of those who came before them. Our presence is possible because of a broader community. Creation  is a result of communion, a recognition “that one does not exist without the other, and vice versa.” In the third Ādhyātmic (Pneumatic) approach, Panikkar encourages people to  meditate on the mystical union of our communal belonging. With this hermeneutical practice,  Panikkar suggests the need for people to discover their intimate self, unlock their consciousness,  and “awaken to the reality” of their shared and sacred communion with God.

  This mystical experience of communion, of being and becoming, united with the source and summit  of life, of Christ, expands the global unity of Vatican II into a Christophanic communion. Christians do not have a monopoly on the knowledge of Christ  and must experience and listen “to how Christ is seen in other cultures.”48 Christians ought to  “revisit the experience of the mystery of Christ in the light of our times—to recognize the kairos  of the present”49 and embrace a Christophanic theology in communion with all creation. It is no surprise that a new period in history should reflect a fresh understanding of Jesus the  Christ.

If Christ is to have any meaning for Hindus, Andines, Ibos, Vietnamese,  and other who do not belong to the Abrahamic lineage, this meaning van no longer be offered  in the garb of Western philosophies.

..Jesus was neither a political liberator  nor an ascetic who denied the world, much less a member of the clergy, but simply a being…

who  lived the fullness of the human. What Jesus did was to participate in the affairs of the earth  and the vicissitudes of men and women, while knowing that it is the obligation of each of us  to assume our responsibilities so that the common effort will achieve greater justice. The life of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection displayed an all-inclusive  love of God in communion with all humanity. Christ’s table fellowship welcomed sinners,  strangers, and friends and provided an open space for dialogue and conversion, as well as  exchanging values and traditions. Christ’s life is an embodiment of a divine pluralistic paradox,  a “living symbol” of divinity, of humanity, and of the cosmos.

” This dynamic understanding of  Christ cannot be reduced to a mere doctrine and demands the communal dialogue of Christophany. Christophany presents a “great challenge of our times,”59 one that cultivates a communion  in which the “mystery of Christ finds its place.” Christianness stands for experience of the life of  Christ within ourselves, insight into a communion, without confusion, with all reality, an experience  that ‘I and the Father are One,’ that labels do not matter, that security is of no importance…

 When humanity finds its place in communion with Christ, it cannot be limited to Christian  or non-Christian, male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight, cis or trans, rather  Christophany becomes “the maximal actualization of our true identity.” The events of the Second Vatican Council were an unprecedented Christophanic moment in the history  of the Church.

Vatican II unlocked new doors and provided the tools for Christians to come into  greater communion with the world. By following his faith, listening to the signs of the times,  and rejecting nothing that is true and holy,  Raimon Panikkar provided a new hermeneutics that widened the doors of the Church. Fifty fives years after Vatican II, and eleven years after the death of Raimon Panikkar,  “the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any  way afflicted,” have been further exacerbated by the dueling pandemics of racism and COVID-19.

Now  more than ever, humanity needs to follow their faith, listen to the signs of the times, reject  nothing that is true and holy, and enter into a communion where “every being is a Christophany.” Thank you..

Read More: A Framework for Responding to Racial Injustice in Our Time 2023

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