Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelization

[, MUSIC PLAYING ]. Thank you, Father Imbelli, for coming to talk to us about your book. It’S a short work, but there’s certainly lots to talk about. Why don’t we begin with talking about what led you to write the book? Well, for the past number of years, –, as a matter of fact, since its foundation — I’ve been deeply involved in Boston, College’s Church in the 21st Century Initiative And then last year I edited the C21 Resources issue on the Catholic intellectual tradition.

And so this whole notion of the Catholic intellectual tradition and what is distinctive about it has been with me And since I had a sabbatical year, the year 2012 2013. I decided to try to put that into a more expanded form, and so hence the little book which has just appeared, The notion of a Christic imagination is clearly central to the book. It’S in the title: How would you define it?
Well, I use the word “ Christic ,”, which is not unique to me. Some people have used it and I know that it may be unfamiliar to some, because, though it focuses on the center, which is who is Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, it extends beyond Jesus Christ.

It extends to the Eucharist, which is integral to what I’m calling the Christic center And it extends to the church which, as we know traditionally has been called the body of Christ, And so I wanted to try to encompass those three dimensions.
Another association is the great Jesuit theologian. Henri de Lubac has spoken of what he calls the triform body of Christ and so the body of the risen Christ, the body of Christ, which is the Eucharist, the Eucharistic body of Christ and the body of Christ, which is the Church of Ecclesial body of Christ. And that these three are ingredient inseparable components of the one reality that Jesus Christ introduces into the world, And so that is the Christic component, Pierre de Chardin, with whom many are familiar.

The Jesuit paleontologist has several essays in which he talks about the Christic, And what he tries to do by that word is to show the cosmic dimension of faith in Christ.
So it’s not merely, though it’s clearly focused on the individual Jesus of Nazareth, but the implications extend far beyond that and has implications for the cosmos itself.

So that — – and this is something that I tread in the book – — the great Christological hymn of the letter to the Colossians, which says that in Jesus Christ, all things hold together. And so I try to use that as one of my key points of departure. For the book In the preface, you provide what I found to be a helpful way of viewing the accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council –.

In particular, your explanation of the terms “ ressourcement” and “ aggiornamento .” Talk to us about these two terms and how they relate to the council’s work.
Yes, I’d like to talk about Vatican II, its epical significance in terms of the creative tension between two movements –

Now the first movement, as you mentioned in your question, is indicated by the French word: “, ressourcement, .”, And so what it alludes to is a return to the sources, the sources being, in particular, the scriptures themselves and the early fathers of the church. And it was a movement that was really flourishing in the’20s and’30s and’40s, especially in German and French Catholicism, which had as its purpose not to negate that of say the Vatican, I or the Council of Trent, but to go beyond to a deeper stream of tradition and Sew this back to the sources

And that really fertilized the thinking of so many and they brought that into the deliberations of Vatican II itself.

The other word from the Italian “ aggiornamento ,”, bringing up to date, which was that it was not sufficient to merely go back. We had to also discern what the meaning of the tradition is in our own day, And it was a word associated, in particular with Pope John XXIII, who of course convened the council, And so you have this dialectical tension. If I might say, between going back to the sources, but not remaining in the first century or the fifth century, and bringing it into the present So too, in the famous words of the Constitution on the church in the modern world to discern the signs of the Times but in the light of the gospel
So I think that shows the interconnection, the intimate interconnection between ressourcement and aggiornamento. Now, as you know, I make another claim in the preface itself that, nonetheless, I think that since Vatican II, for a variety of reasons, we may have neglected what I consider to be the deepest ressourcement

And to indicate that I spell the S of ressourcement with a capital S, because basically the council, in my view, went back and rediscovered Jesus Christ And part of what motivated my book is that I felt that we have lost in the polarization that has occurred after Vatican II, something of the deeper foundation which unites us all And that deeper foundation is Jesus. Christ himself.

And so one of the things that I do in the book is, I try to show how christologically charged the documents of Vatican II are Now some people would say well haven’t we always said that Christ is the center And, of course, we’ve said it, But whether Or not, we have actually lived that out in a way that is creative. That is sustaining that enables us to go beyond more superficial disputes to find the deeper common ground. That’S my question And it’s that which I try to foster in a small way in the book.

You picked four works of art to start each of the book’s four chapters. Can you say something about why you chose each one?

Yes, I think there are two things at stake in the four works of art that are in the book. One of them is a more theoretical conviction that theology can be done in many media and therefore, by rekindling the Christic imagination. I mean imagination also as it comes to expression in poetry, in music, in art.
If I had my way, I would have loved to have a CD in the book with some musical excerpts as well. But I was able – and I’m very grateful to the publisher for allowing me to present four works of art.

And my contention is that each of those works of art is a theological statement so that it’s not merely that theology has to be done in a conceptual way.

Think of Thomas Aquinas’s, Summa, a great masterpiece, But that a work of art can be equally a great masterpiece, not merely aesthetically, but theologically.
And indeed, part of what I try to do in the book is suggest that we really need to overcome some of those dichotomies that we set up between the pastoral and the doctrinal, the theological and the spiritual, the conceptual and the artistic. I think that the Catholic imagination has a way of transcending those dichotomies and integrating those There’s also a personal dimension, because each of those four works of art has spoken very personally to me.

The cover image, which is also then the image that I used for the first chapter on Jesus Christ, I discovered when I was 19 during my junior year abroad.

It’S a small basilica in northwest Burgundy in France, and yet in this small town, which has barely 300 inhabitants. There’S this magnificent basilica purported to be the holder of the relics of St
Mary Magdalene and from which the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain would set out, And so it was terribly important, going beyond its physical size. The basilica is magnificent and, as you enter into the first porch area over the main door, you have this magnificent depiction of the risen Christ, which, for me has remained with me for over 60 years as something of a guide as a spiritual resource. I had the occasion, the other day of speaking to some Boston College undergraduates, and I just pointed out to them how you never know what image will remain with you for the rest of your life, And so I encourage them to be alert to the images which They found moving
The second image which I use in the second chapter on the Trinity is the great icon by Rublev of the Trinity, which is one of the masterpieces of Christian religious art.

And there too, as I try to explain each of the images, has a personal reflection on my part And one of the things which so attracts me about that depiction of the Trinity is that the fourth place at the table is meant for the viewer is meant For each of us so that we are invited into the life of the Trinity – And I think the icon depicts that, in a way that 100 words could not really do justice to The third image is one of my favorite painters, the troubled but magnificent painter Caravaggio
And it’s one of his depictions of the Supper at Emmaus, where the risen Jesus appears to the disciples.

There too, Caravaggio’s ability to bring together light and darkness just adds such a dimension of the interplay between grace and sin in the life of the Christian. The life of the follower of Christ And the fourth image again is a very personal one. To me is the great mosaic of the cross as the tree of life in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, And I’ve had the immense good fortune over the past 10 years of being able to stay in Rome near the Church of San Clemente. And so merely to go there and to be present to this depiction of Christ on the cross, but has given rise to life, not as an image of the dead Christ. So much as the Christ who, by his pastoral mystery, gives rise to newness of life.

And so it’s an unsurpassable image. You write about the originality of Jesus, the Christ. His radical newness Talk about what you mean by this originality. Well, thank you. I think that –, I’m glad you picked up on the word because I used it purposely

What I try to suggest in the chapter is that as needful as it is in our day and age to engage in interreligious dialogue, interreligious dialogue, if it is going to be authentic, cannot gloss the differences amongst the religions.

So, even though we engage in it respectfully and ready to learn from the other, we also need to bring what is distinctive about our own tradition. And my contention is that what is most distinctive about our tradition is the claim that is made about Jesus Christ And so the newness of Christ, that there is both continuity, for example, with the Old Testament. But there is fulfillment which bespeaks a newness that he brings.

And the newness, of course, is enshrined in particular in his pastoral mystery. His death and resurrection

And so Pauline phrases like the firstborn of the dead, the firstborn of all creation, the new Adam –.

All of those to underscore this newness that Christ has brought so that it’s not sufficient merely to consider him one of the prophets, But rather he transcends the category of prophet, So the newness –, I sometimes use the Latin word. The Novum of Jesus Christ, Originality –. I like to play with that word to indicate that not only is he an original, as you might say, other founders of religion might be originals, but he’s the origin And what he is the origin of is a new humanity.
And that’s why that new, Adam motif, And so he gives rise to a new humanity whose first embodiment is the church, but that the church is not closed in unto itself. But rather is the first fruits of a new humanity in the making.

If you will

And so originality newness. I try to give one example –, as you know, from reading the chapter I try to play with this notion of we speak of what would Christ do or what would Christ say, But we really hear a phrase like what would Christ imagine
What is the imagination of Christ, And so the Christic imagination has its roots in the imagination of Christ himself, And what I suggest is that the imagination of Christ is to give birth to a new humanity, and therefore, one way to describe that imagination is Christ. Eucharistic imagination, And so he has a passion for making Eucharist a passion for bringing about communion, And he does it not merely fictionally, but by giving himself giving his body for the sake of building the new humanity.
I try to make the comparison with a great artist like Dostoyevsky, and I suggest that when Dostoyevsky writes the Brothers Karamazov, he creates a whole world a world of relationships.

But finally, it’s a fictional world, You close the book and you put it back on the shelf, But Christ’s originality is that his imagination gives rise to a real world, a world populated by men and women by believers, And that is the radicality.

To my mind of Jesus Christ,
I was struck by your including a short section on three Jewish women in your chapter on the Eucharist. Could you say something about why you included this section? Yes, in speaking of the Eucharist, what I wanted to suggest is that the Eucharist is not merely this delimited thing. It is really Christ present Eucharistically and that we enter into his presence by receiving himself and that in that process, as the fathers of the church would maintain, it is not we who transform the bread and wine into our own bodily needs, but by receiving Christ, we Are transformed into him, But I wanted to suggest that that gives rise to a whole attitude disposition way of life that I too am Eucharistic and so that if we truly receive the Eucharist, we are called, as Saint Augustine says, in his wonderful phrase, to become what We receive to become Eucharistic

And so I talk about the spiritual journey as a movement towards becoming a transformed, Eucharistic self, But I also wanted to suggest that that is not limited to those who explicitly profess Christianity And, as you suggested, in order to at least evoke this. I refer to three.

Incredibly, influential holy Jewish women of the 20th century, — Edith, Stein, Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum, And I try to say something about each of them. Edith Stein, of course, did become a Catholic Christian and received the Eucharist
Simone Weil, as you know, was attracted deeply by Christ and by Catholicism, but was never baptized and therefore did not receive the Eucharist physically, though she was very Eucharist in her sense, — Eucharistic in her sensibilities,

And, as you remember, one of her great loves was this poem by the Anglican priest, George Herbert, which is quite Eucharistic. But the third woman who in many ways is the most intriguing, is Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman, whose life bespoke an incredible transformation from a warm young woman who was not even sure about the existence of God to one who, through her self-sacrificing service of her Fellow Jews in the transit camp in Holland really became Eucharistic, And I quote somewhat extensively from her journals, which almost miraculously were preserved, even though she perished in Auschwitz.

Her journals, which we speak, what I speak of as this Eucharistic sensibility a sense of gratitude for the gifts that one has received, even in the most dire circumstances and a sense of a pouring out of self in service of others –. For me, that is what being Eucharistic is about.

And therefore the Eucharist, if you will extends beyond the confines of Catholicism or Christianity, It really points to what is the deepest reality that links all of us together and to God. Beauty is a term. You refer to often What role do you see it playing in the Christian life To use the complicated philosophical word? Traditionally, people have spoke of the transcendentals, those categories of philosophy which transcend any particular limited instance of them.

And such transcendentals are often spoken of as the truth, the good And so truth and goodness really transcend cultural contexts.

We can dialogue with others across cultural barriers, precisely if we are both seeking the truth and are animated by the good. But a third transcendental which has been spoken of, but perhaps less adverted to is the beautiful And it seems more and more as though this neglected transcendental really needs to be brought into the picture. That the way of beauty is the way, perhaps to appeal to even attract those who might feel that, while the mere declamation of truths runs the risk of being doctrinaire, whereas beauty can open the heart of people,
As you know, this book was completed and was in its proofs when Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium The Joy of the Gospel, And so I approached the publisher and I said: could we not at least have a postscript on that because it is so Relevant to what I was trying to accomplish in the book And they again acceded to that

And in the course of Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel Francis speaks of the way of beauty. The way of beauty as a means of sharing the joy of the gospel, And so even the four works of art which I had chosen, seemed to me to entice to fascinate in a way that perhaps the printed page can’t do.
So the hope is that, being somewhat enticed by the beauty of the works of art, people might say.

Well, let me give the printed page a chance too.

Could you please read the passage from Pope Francis at the end of your book, and talk about why you decided to use it At the very end of the postscript which I inserted after The Joy of the Gospel appeared. I dwelt on a particular paragraph of the pope’s letter because it seemed to me to sum up so much of what I was trying to suggest, And indeed I had quoted the passage of Saint Irenaeus, which the pope repeats in the chapter on Christ. The chapter on the originality and newness of Christ, And so this is the pope, beginning by quoting Saint Irenaeus, Saint Irenaeus, an early second century father of the church.
So the pope writes “, As Saint Irenaeus writes by his coming.

Christ brought with him all newness With this newness ,” the pope now says “. He is always able to renew our lives and our communities

And even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old. Jesus Christ can also break through the dole schemas in which we try to imprison him, and he constantly surprises us by his divine creativeness. Each time we return to the source and recover the original freshness of the gospel new paths, open, creative methods, different forms of expression, more eloquent signs, words filled with renewed meaning for today’s world.
In reality, every authentic act of evangelization is always new .

‘. Now I could not help but think after reading that and transcribing it that it represented the papal seal of approval on my book.

But in any case, he touches upon so many of the thoughts and the attitudes, the dispositions I was trying to convey. It’S also, I think, interesting for me that — and it’s a case that I make in the book or at least suggest –, that theologically speaking, there is great affinity between Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. We know, for example, that the first encyclical of Pope, Francis “ Lumen Fidei ,” “ The Light of Faith ,”.

He drew upon and incorporated the first draft which Pope Benedict himself had prepared and so an act both of homage and of humility on Pope Francis’s part.

But there’s no question that there is a difference in style between the two men and one way to at least suggest. An approach is that Pope Benedict was very much a man of the word. If you read his homilies, they are magnificent homilies, But he would read them just with his head down, making very little audience contact Pope Francis not only reads by engaging the audience but sometimes throws away his text and he speaks what the Italians call abraccio extemporaneously And He also speaks in images, so he is a man of the image, not that his words are not important, but the famous image that the pastor must smell, like the flock
Or, as he told the youngsters in Rio de Janeiro at World Youth Day, don’t liquify the faith. You know don’t make it into some sort of juice drink, which is more water than juice.

Keep the faith whole and entire, And so he has these images which endear him And, of course, even without words. The image of him bending over the man physically deformed and embracing him, or the image of his washing the feet of the young prisoners on Holy Thursday. Of a year ago, and so his images really bespeak the newness that the joy of the gospel can promote.
And in many ways I think what he has done, if I may be so bold, is to rekindle the Christic imagination, [, MUSIC PLAYING ]

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