First Lenten Sermon of Fr. Cantalamessa: Full text
(Vatican Radio) On Friday morning, in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, the Preacher to the Pontifical Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., delivered the first sermon for Lent 2017.
The theme of this year’s series of Lenten homilies is “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3) – the Holy Spirit introduces us to the ‘fullness of the truth’ about Jesus and about His Paschal mystery.”
Below, please find the full text of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa’s First Sermon for Lent 2017 (delivered in Italian; English translation courtesy of Marsha Daigle-Williamson):
THE HOLY SPIRIT LEADS US INTO THE MYSTERY
OF THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST
1. “He will bear witness to me”
One thing impressed me while reading the initial prayer of the Mass of the First Sunday of Lent this year. We don’t pray that God the Father give us the strength to accomplish one of the classic Lenten works: fasting, praying, doing charity; we ask rather to “grow in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ.” I believe that this is indeed the most important and most acceptable work in God’s eyes, and it is to this end that my Lenten meditations would like to contribute.
Following the reflection begun in the Advent on the Holy Spirit who should permeate the whole life and proclamation of the Church (“Theology of the Third Article”!), in these Lenten meditations I intend to move from the third article to the second article of the creed. In other words, we will try to highlight how the Holy Spirit “leads us into all the truth” about Christ and his paschal mystery, that is, about the Savior’s being and work. Concerning Christ’s work we will try, in keeping with the liturgical season of Lent, to delve into the role the Holy Spirit plays in the death and resurrection of Christ and in our personal death and resurrection.
The second article of the creed, in its complete formulation, is as follows:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
This central article of the creed reflects two different stages of faith. The phrase, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” reflects the earliest faith of the Church immediately after Easter. What comes next in the article of the creed, “born of the Father before all ages . . . ,” reflects a later, more evolved stage, subsequent to the Arian controversy and the Council of Nicea in 325. Let us dedicate the present meditation to the first part of the article, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” and see what the New Testament tells us about the Spirit as the author of the true knowledge of Christ.
St. Paul affirms that Jesus Christ was manifested as the “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:4), that is, according to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul reaches the point of declaring that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), thanks to his inner revelation. He attributes to the Holy Spirit the “insight into the mystery of Christ” that was given to him and was also “revealed to his holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3: 4-5). He says that, “strengthened with might through his Spirit,” believers will be able to “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3: 16, 19).
In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself proclaims this work of the Paraclete in his regard. The Holy Spirit will take what is his and will declare it to the disciples; the Spirit will remind them of all that Jesus said; he will lead them into all the truth about Jesus’ relationship with Father and will bear witness to him (see Jn 16:7-15). From this point on, the precise criterion for recognizing if something is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit will be if one is moved to acknowledge that Jesus has come in the flesh (see 1 Jn 4:2-3).
Some people believe that the current emphasis on the Holy Spirit could overshadow the work of Christ almost as though that work was incomplete or imperfect. This is a complete misunderstanding. The Spirit never says, “I”; he never speaks in the first person; he always points to Christ; he does not claim to establish a work of his own but always refers himself to Christ and leads believers to him. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life; the Spirit is the one who helps us understand all this!
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost results in a sudden illumination of the whole work and person of Christ. Peter concludes his discourse at Pentecost with a solemn declaration, which today could be called “urbi et orbi”: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord [Kyrios] and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). From that day on, the early community began to look at the life of Jesus, his death, and resurrection in a different way; everything seemed clear now, as if a veil had been removed from their eyes (see 2 Cor 3:16). Although they had lived side by side with him, without the Spirit they had not been able to penetrate the profundity of his mystery.
Today a rapprochement is occurring between Orthodox and Catholic theology on this topic of the relationship between Christ and the Spirit. At a conference in Bologna in 1980, the theologian John D. Zizioulas expressed reservations, on the one hand, about the ecclesiology of Vatican II because, according to him, “the Holy Spirit was brought into ecclesiology after the edifice of the Church was constructed entirely on a Christological basis”; on the other hand, he recognized that Orthodox theology also needed to rethink the relationship between Christology and pneumatology to avoid constructing an ecclesiology based only on pneumatology. In other words we Latins are urged to deepen our understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church (which is what happened after the Second Vatican Council) while our Orthodox brethren are urged to deepen their understanding of the role of Christ and, consequently, of the presence of the Church in history.
2. Objective and Subjective Knowledge of Christ
Let us turn, then, to the role of the Holy Spirit with respect to the knowledge of Christ. In the New Testament, two kinds of knowledge of Christ are already outlined, or two areas in which the Spirit is at work. There is an objective knowledge of Christ—of his being, his mystery, and his person—and there is a knowledge that is more subjective, practical, and interior that aims at knowing what Jesus “does for me” rather than at what he “is in himself.”
In Paul what predominates is an interest in understanding what Christ has done for us, in what was accomplished by Christ, and in particular his paschal mystery; in John what predominates instead is an interest in understanding who Christ is in himself: the eternal Logos who was with God and came in the flesh, the one who says, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). But it is only from subsequent developments that these two tendencies become evident. I note them briefly because this will help us understand the gift the Holy Spirit is giving to the church today on this matter.
In the patristic age, the Holy Spirit appears above all as the guarantor of the apostolic tradition concerning Jesus to counter new doctrines introduced by the Gnostics. St. Irenaeus affirms that the Spirit is the gift God entrusted to the Church; those who separate themselves with their false doctrine from the truth proclaimed by the Church are not partakers of him. Tertullian argues the apostolic churches cannot have erred in their preaching of the truth. To think otherwise would signify that the Holy Spirit, “the Steward of God, the vicar of Christ,” who was sent by Christ and asked by the Father to be the teacher of truth, would have “neglected his office.”
During the time of the great dogmatic controversies, the Holy Spirit is seen as the custodian of Christological orthodoxy. In the councils, the Church has the firm certainty of being “inspired” by the Spirit in formulating the truth about the two natures of Christ, the unity of his person, and the completeness of his humanity. The emphasis is thus clearly on the objective, dogmatic, and ecclesial knowledge of Christ.
This tendency remains predominant in theology up until the Reformation. With one difference, however. The dogmas, at the time of their formulation, were vital questions and the result of lively participation by the whole Church, but once sanctioned and handed down, they tended to lose their incisiveness and become formal. “Two natures in one person” became a ready-made formula rather than the arrival point of a long and difficult process. During all this time there were certainly wonderful experiences of the intimate, personal knowledge of Christ that was full of fervent devotion to him like that of St. Bernard or Francis of Assisi. But these experiences did not have much influence on theology. Such experiences are still mentioned today in the history of spirituality but not in the history of theology.
The Protestant reformers reversed the situation and said, “To know Christ is to know his benefits and not . . . to reflect upon his natures and the modes of his Incarnation.” The Christ “for me” jumps to first place. A subjective, intimate knowledge is placed in contrast to objective, dogmatic knowledge; an “inner witness” from the Holy Spirit about Jesus in the heart of every believer is placed in contrast to the external testimony of the Church about Jesus. When this theological innovation also tended in official Protestantism to be transformed later into a “dead orthodoxy,” periodically movements, like Pietism in Lutheran circles and Methodism in Anglican circles, sprang up to bring it back to life. The apex of the knowledge of Christ coincides in these movements with the moment in which believers, moved by the Holy Spirit, become aware that Jesus has died “for them,” for each one of them in particular, and they recognize him as their personal Savior:
Then with my heart I first believed,
believed with faith divine,
power with the Holy Ghost received
to call the Savior mine.
I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
close to my soul applied.
Let us conclude this brief look at history by noting a third stage in the way of conceiving of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of Christ, one that has characterized the centuries of the Enlightenment of which we are the direct heirs. An objective, detached knowledge is now back in vogue, but it is no longer in the ontological category, as it was in the ancient era, but in the historical category. In other words, the interest is not in knowing who Jesus Christ is in himself (his pre-existence, his natures, his person) but who he was in history. It is the age of research surrounding the so-called “historical Jesus”!
In this stage the Holy Spirit no longer plays a role in the knowledge of Christ; he is entirely absent from it. The “inner witness” of the Holy Spirit now becomes identified with reason and the human spirit. The “external testimony” is the main thing, but this no longer means the apostolic testimony of the Church but only that of history, ascertained through various critical methods. The common presupposition of this effort was that to find the real Jesus, one needed to look outside the Church, releasing him “from the wrappings of ecclesiastical doctrine.”
We know what the result of all this search for the historical Jesus has been: a failure, even though this does not mean it did not have many positive fruits. However, in this regard, there still persists an equivocation at bottom. Jesus Christ—and after him other people like St. Francis of Assisi—did not simply live in history but created a history and now live in the history they created, like a sound living in the wave that it produced. The fierce effort of rationalistic historians seems to be to separate Christ from the history he created in order to restore him to a common universal history, as though one could better perceive a sound in its authenticity by separating it from the wave that carries it. The history that Jesus initiated, or the wave he emitted, is the faith of the Church animated by the Holy Spirit, and it is only through that faith that one can know its source.
The legitimacy of normal historical research on Christ is not excluded by all this, but this research must be more aware of its limits and recognize that it is does not exhaust all that can be known about him. Just as the noblest act of reason is to recognize that “there is an infinity of things that are beyond it,” so too the most honest act of the historian is to recognize that there exists something that cannot be reached by history alone.
3. The Sublime Knowledge of Christ
At the end of his classic work on the history of Christian exegesis, Henri de Lubac reached a rather pessimistic conclusion. He said that certain conditions were missing for us moderns to be able to revive a spiritual reading like that of the Fathers. What we lack is that enthusiastic faith, that sense of the fullness and unity of Scriptures they had. The desire to imitate their boldness in reading the Bible today would be almost risking profanation because we are lacking the spirit from which such readings arise. Nevertheless, he did not entirely close the door to hope; in another work he says that “If we aspire to find something of what was the spiritual interpretation of Scripture in the early centuries of the Church, . . . it is a spiritual movement that we must reproduce above all.”
What de Lubac noted with regard to the spiritual understanding of Scripture can be applied all the more to the spiritual understanding of Christ. It is not enough to write new and more updated treatises on pneumatology. If we lack the underpinnings of a lived experience of the Spirit, analogous to that which accompanied the first elaboration of the theology of the Spirit in the fourth century, whatever is said will always remain external to the real issue. We would lack the necessary conditions to raise us to the level at which the Paraclete operates: the enthusiasm, the boldness, and that “sober intoxication of the spirit” about which almost all the great authors of that century spoke. We cannot present a Christ in the anointing of the Spirit if we do not live, in some way, in that same anointing.
The great innovation hoped for by Father de Lubac is now coming to pass. In the last century there arose a “spiritual movement,” which is continually growing, that has created the basis for a renewal of pneumatology that begins from an experience of the Spirit and of his charisms. I am speaking about the Pentecostal and Charismatic phenomenon. In its first fifty years, this movement—born in reaction to the liberal and rationalistic tendency in theology, like Pietism and Methodism mentioned above—has deliberately ignored theology and has in turn been ignored (and even ridiculed!) by academic theology.
However, when around the middle of the last century that movement penetrated traditional churches in possession of a vast theological apparatus and received a basic welcome from those respective hierarchies, theology could no longer ignore it. In a book called Erfahrung und Theologie des Heiligen Geistes [The Experience and Theology of the Holy Spirit], the most noted theologians of the day, Catholic and Protestant, examined the significance of the Pentecostal and charismatic phenomenon for the renewal of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
What interests us in all of this at this point only concerns the knowledge of Christ. What understanding of Christ is emerging in this new spiritual and theological atmosphere? The most significant fact is not the discovery of new perspectives and new methodologies following the latest trends in philosophy (structuralism, linguistic analysis, etc.) but the rediscovery of a basic biblical fact: Jesus Christ is Lord! The lordship of Christ is a new world that can be entered into only “by the action of the Holy Spirit.”
St. Paul speaks of a “superior” or even “sublime” knowledge of Christ that consists in knowing him and proclaiming him precisely as “Lord” (see Phil 3:8). This is the proclamation which, accompanied by faith in the resurrection of Christ, can make a person “saved”: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). This knowledge is made possible only by the Holy Spirit: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Anyone can of course just mouth those words without the Holy Spirit, but it would not then lead to the wonderful event we just referred to; it would not save a person.
What is so special about this affirmation that makes it so decisive? That can be explained from different points of view that are objective and subjective. The objective power of the statement, “Jesus is Lord,” is that it makes history, and in particular the paschal mystery, present. It is the conclusion derived from two events: Christ died for our sins; he was raised for our justification; therefore, he is Lord. “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom 14:9). The events that led to it are contained in this conclusion and become present and operative in it. In this case words are truly “the house of Being.” The proclamation “Jesus is Lord” is the seed from which the whole kerygma and subsequent Christian preaching developed.
From the subjective point of view, or what pertains to us, the power of this proclamation is the fact that it also entails a decision. Whoever proclaims it, is deciding the direction of his or her life. It is as if the person said, “You are my Lord; I submit myself to you, and I freely acknowledge you as my savior, my master, my teacher, the one who has all rights over me. I belong to you more than I do to myself because you have bought me at a price” (see 1 Cor 6:19-20).
The decision that is inherent in the proclamation of Jesus as “Lord” takes on a particular relevance today. Some people believe that it is possible, and even necessary, to lay aside the affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ in order to promote interfaith dialogue. However, to proclaim Jesus as “Lord” means precisely to proclaim his uniqueness. It is not without reason that the article has us proclaim, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” St. Paul writes,
Although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor 8:5-6)
The apostle wrote these words at the time when the Christian faith, small and newly birthed, was facing a world dominated by powerful and prestigious cults and religions. The courage it takes today to believe that Jesus is “the only Lord” is nothing compared to the courage it took back then. But the “power of the Spirit” is not granted except to the one who proclaims Jesus as Lord in its powerful original meaning. It is a fact of experience. Only after a theologian or a preacher has decided to gamble everything on Jesus Christ, the “only Lord” —even at the cost of being “cast out of the synagogue”—only then does that person experience a new certainty and power in his or her life.
4. From the “Personage” of Jesus to the “Person” of Jesus
This luminous discovery of Jesus as Lord is, as I said, the innovation and the grace that God is granting in our time to his Church. I realized that when I questioned Tradition regarding all the other topics and words of Scripture, the testimony of the Fathers would come crowding into my mind. But when I tried to question it on this point, Tradition remained virtually silent. Already in the third century, the title “Lord” was no longer understood in its kerygmatic meaning. Outside of Jewish religious circles, the meaning of that word was not sufficient to express the uniqueness of Christ. Origen, for instance, considers “Lord” (Kyrios) to be a title used by someone who is still at the stage of fear; the relationship Lord–servant is inferior to the relationship Teacher– disciple.
People of course continued to speak of “the Lord” Jesus, but it became a name for Christ like other names, and most often it was one of the components of Christ’s complete name: “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” But it is one thing to say, “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” and another to say, “Jesus Christ is our Lord!” One indication of this change is the way the text of Philippians 2:11 came to be translated in the Vulgate: “Omnis lingua confiteatur quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris,” “every tongue must confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.” It is one thing to say, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father” and quite another thing to say, “Jesus Christ is our Lord to the glory of God the Father.” In this second rendering, which is what current translations say, it is not just a name that is being uttered but a profession of faith that is being proclaimed.
Where in all this is the qualitative leap that the Holy Spirit leads us to make in our understanding of Christ? It is in the fact that the proclamation of Jesus as Lord is the door that leads us into the knowledge of the risen and living Christ! Christ is no longer a personage but a person; he is no longer a set of theses, dogmas (and corresponding heresies); he is no longer merely a figure to worship and remember, but a living person who is always present in the Spirit.
This spiritual and existential knowledge of Jesus as Lord does not lead to the neglect of objective, dogmatic, and ecclesial knowledge of Christ but instead revitalizes it. “By the Spirit of God,” St. Irenaeus says, revealed truth, “renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also.” We will dedicate our next meditation, God willing, to one of these truths, the dogma that constitutes the second part of that article of the creed: “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”
I do not know a better practical resolution we can make at the end of these reflections than what we read at the beginning of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium by Pope Francis:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. (no. 3)
Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle-Williamson