A Christophanic Hermeneutics
The work of Raimon Panikkar cultivates a dynamism for the Christian faith that motivates all humanity to recognize the goodness that they already know deep within our hearts: We belong together. Panikkar’s Christophany encompasses a Trinitarian Christology that “intends to offer 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.”
To cultivate a broadened Christology that “includes every epiphany of the sacred or divine, and undertakes the task of critical discernment,” Panikkar presents a new hermeneutics that attempts to “enter into the most sacred recess of the human.”
Like all hermeneutical cycles, Panikkar begins with a text, which for Panikkar moves beyond just sacred scriptures to an “intimate relation with the whole of creation—because reality as a whole is ‘triune.’” By grounding himself with the whole of creation, Panikkar invites Christians to discover the Trinitarian Christ in the unfolding of the cosmos. This unfolding of Christ requires three co-equal approaches: Individualistic, Personalistic, and Ādhyātmic (Pneumatic).
Borrowing from the notion that theology is anthropology, each of Panikkar’s approaches has an anthropological air about them. By recognizing the “individual,” we notice their particularity. These individual subtleties and differences give a unique distinction to every dimension of creation. In noticing the individual, we recognize our relational qualities, because “there is no I without the you,” for every individual, every person, every being of creation is relational. Our presence is possible because of a broader community. We came into existence because of the relationship between our parents. Our individual creation is a result of communion.
Through the beingness of all creation, we participate in a communication with the nature of others that recognizes our shared communion. Through this mystical union that recognizes our shared knowledge, we engage with the ādhyātmicrealm that binds us with the spiritual essence of all creation. Panikkar encourages people to meditate on this practice so that we might “awaken to reality” and discover the veils that unfold in our consciousness to a discovery of our intimate self in a sacred communion with God.
As the wisdom of the wind cuts through the distance that separates “you and I” we unite with the prophetic interchange with God that Abraham Joshua Heschel professes in his poem “I and You:”
Transmissions flow from your heart to Mine,
trading, twining My pain with yours.
Am I not—you? Are you not—I?
My nerves are clustered with Yours.
Your dreams have met with mine.
Are we not one in the bodies of millions?
Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech—a distant, quiet voice—in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden.
I live in Me and in you.
Through your lips goes a word from Me to Me,
from your eyes drips a tear—its source in Me.
When a need pains You, alarm me!
When You miss a human being
tear open my door!
You live in Yourself, You live in me.
This indwelling of the Spirit unites humanity not only with a “transcendent ‘God’ but a relation of solidarity with the whole of Reality.”
For too long, Christians have separated ourselves from one another. Each schism dividing us even further, bickering over whose understanding of Christ was most accurate. The truth, however, is that “the Word became flesh and lived among [all of] us.” The sarx of John 1:14, “reaches beyond the person of Jesus… to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they were composed.” All creation becomes saturated in the incarnation that “reaches into the roots of material and biological existence.”
While Christ might saturate all creation, the “Christology that has reached us today” has reduced the contributions of the Americas, and the insights of “Asia, Africa, and Oceania has been practically nil.” As such, Christians lack a global, holistic perspective of Christ, that has relegated Christology to a culture of foreign conquerors and invaders that used Christological images as a means for war and a weapon for colonization. Christ, and as a result Christology then has become an oppressive kyriarchy that supports “a social-political system of domination and subordination.”
Christians ought to “revisit the experience of the mystery of Christ in the light of our times—to recognize the kairos of the present” and embrace a liberative theology that “shines light in the darkness” welcoming all creation.
The life of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection displayed an all-inclusive love of God “where every human person is valued, and all interrelate in a mutually respectful way.” Christ’s life stands in opposition to our divisive culture. Christ is an embodiment of a divine pluralistic paradox, as his life was a “living symbol of divinity, of humanity, and of the cosmos.” It is through this mystical union found in Christ, that “the finite and the infinite meet. In him the human and the divine are united. In him the material and the spiritual are one—to say nothing of the masculine and the feminine, high and low, heaven and earth.” This dynamic understanding of Christophany that “illuminates every being” echos “Paul’s interpretation and adaptation of the baptismal declaration” of Galatians:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
As “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” the incarnation of Christ “concerns God’s eternal Logos/Wisdom who became one with the life story of Jesus in order to accomplish a new level of union between creator and creatures.” The incarnation cannot be bound to a finite moment. We must see that the incarnation “is impinging on every moment and epoch in history, and is close to every place in the vast cosmic space.”
The incarnation of God becoming alive as an infant in a seemingly unimportant place binds God to all humanity. In this bonding of God with humanity, “Christ became [Human], because [God] wanted to be any [human] and every [human],” writes Thomas Merton, and thus through the incarnation, “there should be no one on Earth in whom we are not prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ.” This expansive mystery of Christ in all humanity recognizes that “Christ is not a wall of separation but a symbol of union, fellowship, and love.”
“The idea that God created the world for the sake of the church (Deus propter ecclesial museum creavit) was considered almost synonymous with the idea of the Mystical Body: God created the world in order to divinize his creation by letting it become his own body whose head is Jesus Christ, and we are the rest of the body.” While the “full inclusiveness of the body of Christ may be realized in the life of God… it has not yet transpired in the world of humanity at large.” As Brian Bantum writes in his book, The Death of Race:
Jesus walks into the structures of gender, class, nation, and empire. He enters into the binaries our words have created to make sense of one another’s bodies: male/female, Jew/Greek, slave/free . . . black/white? gay/straight? citizen/illegal? As he enters, he is the activity of God in these social systems, rejecting their dehumanizing work. God’s redeeming work in the world is enfleshed, embodied, walking through towns occupied by military force, women and men subjected to religious, political, and economic power that does not see their humanity or their flourishing as their purpose. The perfection of God’s life is pressed into our lives from the very beginning of [Christ’s] life.
“Christophany is pluralistic” it is not limited to male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight, cis or trans, instead it “illuminates every being.” In order for our faith to resemble the all-inclusive love of God, we must recognize that the incarnation of Christ in humanity “is the maximal actualization of our true identity.” It is through this faith that humanity “is saved, completed, attains his fullness, obtains liberation.”
“Liberation theology” takes many numbers of avenues, by narrowing the focus on “Feminist liberation theology” we can examine those who “constitute half of the immense human family” and discover how a Feminist Christophany might liberate Man’s inability to discover Christ in the other.
To liberate the Christian tradition from the historical marginalization and denigration of women, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza highlights the ministry of Jesus who invited people to experience God as an “all-inclusive love… of graciousness and goodness who accepts everyone and brings about justice and well-being for everyone without exception.” In the table fellowship of Jesus, we see that Jesus ate with both men and women, prostitute and Pharisee, saints and sinners. Jesus’ hope for the wholeness and holiness of the “inbreaking of God’s basileia, when death, suffering, and injustice finally will be overcome” announces a God whose mission is for “the outcasts and those who suffer injustice.”
The community that Jesus inspired revealed a God who was open to all creation enabling the “Jesus movement to become a ‘discipleship of equals.’” No longer could men relegate women to the shadows because the light of Christ extends beyond the darkness. This point is abundantly clear in the various Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus. Each Gospel recognizes the first appearance of the Resurrected Christ to a woman. This revelation cannot be understated. The placement of women in the historical narrative of the Church evolved out of an androcentric context. For each of the Gospel writers to include some version of this story reveals the dynamic and all-inclusive salvation of Christ who’s light pierced into the androcentric shadows of kyriarchy.
While Christ’s light might have pierced the shadows of all creation, the Roman Catholic has entrenched itself in the false notion that Christ is recognizable only in the particularity of men.
“Sacramental signs,” says Saint Thomas, “represent what they signify by natural resemblance.” The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this “natural resemblance” which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.
This scandal of particularity negates the notion that God entered humanity for the salvation of all creation, and every person—male and female. The Roman Catholic Church has “capitalized on Jesus’ maleness as a means to ensure that men are in control and that women are there to serve them.” As a result, the Church has constructed a theology that does not “recognize that God is ‘one of us’ in Jesus Christ,” thus limiting our capacity to “equally value all people, with their varying particularities.” We have failed to see that Jesus’ life, ministry, and public association with women “was a scandalous breach of decorum and a challenge to the gender boundaries of the first century.” Moreover, Jesus’ understanding and proclamation of the Reign of God “was not to be only a male enterprise, but an inclusive one.” The Church and all of the faithful must welcome a faith that is incarnated in the “ekklēsia of women as the ‘body of Christ’… who share the vision of the people of God as the discipleship of equals.”
A Liberative Cosmovision
In order for humanity to discover a “vision of the people of God as the discipleship of equals,” we must discover a new “cosmovision.” Christophany presents a “great challenge of our times” that cultivates a way of seeing in which the “mystery of Christ finds its place.”Through the changing of our eyes, this new “cosmovision” gradually liberates humanity’s way of seeing. The Christophanic cosmic-vision allows the light of Christ to fall upon all creation. Christophany illuminates even the shadows of darkness. With a Christophanic cosmic-vision, Christ becomes the light through which we see.
When we recognize that all humanity—male and female—are enveloped in the mystical union of the kingdom of God we “affirm that each being is a christophany, a manifestation of the christic adventure of all reality.” This recognition of Christ’s presence in all reality illuminates our personal encounter of faith.
We are a blessed and broken people, our lives, and our hope is built upon the goodness of creation. When we isolate ourselves from one another, it “minimizes the image of God in each of us” and limits our capacity to share in God’s loving creation. Scripture teaches us, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” In this first epistle of John, we receive the knowledge that “we love because [God] first loved us.” From the moment of our creation, we are birthed into the love of God, and there is nothing that “will be able to separate us from the love of God.” This birthing of “God into human history by way of [Mary’s] womb caused profound reversals of kyriarchal systems” and opened a pathway for the union of all humanity.
When we begin with a vision of creation that is saturated with the mystery of Christ we can imagine a world with fewer barriers. Christophany invites us to recognize the mystery of Christ that is present in all reality. It is a Eucharistic encounter with Christ that invites us to enter into a “community with God for whom there is no difference.” This dynamic experience with Christophany unites us with the wisdom we already knew in our hearts: We belong together. It unites us with the mystical wisdom that Thomas Merton, a Catholic Monk, experienced while meeting with Buddhist Monks in India:
The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words. It is beyond speech. It is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity, but we discover an old unity. My dear brothers and sisters, we are already one. But we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be, is what we are.
This “old unity” that Merton highlights are a reminder of the christic journey we are all traveling. For too long we have imagined that we are separate forgetting that the sun rises over all creation and the rain falls over all the land. The truth is that we are one with God. Our kinship with God, and ultimately with one another, gives each one of us the grace to look upon the world with a loving lens.
As Catholics, we are invited into this mystical union every day through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Through ordinary bread and wine, we encounter the extraordinary body and blood of Christ. Through the consumption of the Eucharistic meal, Catholics enter into the living mystery of the resurrected Christ. In this mystical union that occurs through the Eucharist, “we are also called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale.” When we partake in the Eucharist, “it is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” As such, it becomes impossible to separate ourselves from creation and God. As German mystic Dorothee Sölle articulated:
What takes place in the encounter with God is that the searching ends not with the finding, but with being found. God was always already standing behind me, even when I was rushing in the other direction.
This “rushing” through creation only to “find ourselves” in creation is our mystical experience of Christophany. We do not become dissolved into one another, rather like the Trinity we stand uniquely as our own, but in the space, the “abyss,” that once was separate, “there is a meeting between the finite and infinite, the material and the spiritual, the cosmic and the divine” the male and the female.
We Belong Together
Walking on a cold wintery afternoon fog and mist fill the air. With every breath, cool moisture fills your lungs. With every exhale, you contribute to the haze as your warm breath is enveloped into the cool air. With each step, puddles splash beneath your feet. Upon your head, water drips down your hair and tickles as it slowly streams over your cheek. The moisture is unavoidable. This ever-present mist lingers even in the sunshine, the light dances with speckled brilliance.
The nature of creation holds back no judgment. The rain falls across all the land. The cool air cuts through every branch of every tree. The moisture saturates every crack. All creation is soaked in radiant light.
The nature of humanity, however, is much different. Walls are built to separate us from them. Cracks are filled to prevent even the tiniest shade of light from squeezing through. Judgment is placed upon those who are and are not welcomed in from the cold. The comprehensive quality of nature is not apparent in humanity.
The nature of faith soaks through the fabric of humanity and beckons us to resemble the truth of our creation. Grace falls upon all creation. Wisdom cuts through every barrier and every false distinction. Hope illuminates even the bleakest spaces. Love invites us into a mystical union.
As we look towards a world that seems increasingly divided and wander towards a shelter from the chaotic storm, we discover profound wisdom beneath an umbrella of broadening Christology that reigns upon all creation. It is beneath this umbrella of Christophany that we discover a new vision that liberates our division.
This new Christophanic cosmic-vision allows us to witness the baptism of creation. The reign of nature saturates all creation. The rain of God blesses creation with overflowing love that puddles beneath our feet. The Spirit of the wind fills the air, as hope-filled grace breathes into the lungs of creation. Sunlight dances with speckled brilliance providing warming relief. The sign of Christ’s light makes visible the truth we see in all creation: We belong together.
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