Holloway on: Messiah and Unity-Law
It is said by some that the religion of the greatest sages of the East transcends, in its contemplative vision of God, the tradition of the Hebrews, at least until the writing of the ‘Wisdom’ literature some two hundred years or less before the birth of Christ. There seems no reason to concede this point. Communication by writing was never as developed in the Jewish milieu as it was in the more agrarian less nomadic Indo-Himalayan and Chinese civilisations, until at least about the time we find the Wisdom literature, the time that is of the full penetration into the near East of the Romano-Hellenic culture of the West. Yet, there are signs enough that among priest and prophet there did exist a ‘wisdom spoken among the perfect’ which was more than the naked ‘Law’ of the tribal masses.
It is implicit in the promulgation of the creation narrative to the masses themselves, in the relationship for instance between God and Man before the disobedience of sin - the ‘walking with God in the afternoon air’, a simple beautiful intimation of affection and mutual communion. The same expression is also used of Henoch, whose name means ‘discipline’ or ‘teaching’ and who was ‘holy, and walked with God, and was seen no more because God took him . . .’ etc. A very true understanding of mystical experience is contained in the vision of Moses, and his needing the protection of God lest he die, even in the vision of ‘My hinder parts’. It is in the reality which so shone out from the face of Moses, transformed from converse with God, that he wears a veil over his face.
There is a contemplative awareness of God as a personality loved in the beauty of the Canticle of Moses, and even more in the balance of fairness and tenderness in the dying exhortation of the great leader to the people of Israel. A man who so spoke loved both God and his people with a love of experience – it is from the abundance of the heart that any mouth speaks.
Briefly, one may indicate the Psalms of David where there is the psychological stamp of a man’s experience of God. There is anguish and despair, but through it all hope and strength, and such is not born of agnosticism but of an inner experience of peace and power, in spite of the storm. We may indicate the majesty of the great prophets of Israel, especially Isaiah; there is a patience, a tenderness, a thrilling vision of God and the future, in spite of the loneliness and the rejection and sin of the people, that can only proceed from souls of great experience, whose pain is tempered by the experienced inner vision of God.
Faith and Authority
There is a very good reason which a Faith of Israel should appear to be a faith of the Law and of Authority, rather than of contemplative possession. Israel was a religion of the whole people, not of an elite; it cared for the doings of daily life. It was not an optional Faith that withdrew apart, under the holy tree, on the banks of the sacred river, to contemplate the ‘massa damnata’, the ‘great unleavened’ with an infinite, a despairing compassion. The Faith of Israel was of a God who cared and intervened in the toils of material daily life. The Covenant was a call to the vocation of every individual, high and humble alike, and hence to the body social of society, and the quality of its works. Such a Tradition must be embroiled in the life, loves and sins of Everyman everywhere. It will be strongly organisational, perceptive, and liturgical in the true sense of that word – catering in its acts and life of prayer for the mass of the people to whom it addresses itself. It will be as full as Everyman’s household with simple loves and noisy imprecations, obsessed with the waywardness of prodigal sons, and as intent upon their repentance.
It is a mistake to expect to see the development of the ‘highest’ aspect of Religion in the beginnings of that Tradition which contained the full potential of the Creative Law of the universe. The confusion and the problems wrought in human life and understanding by sin would mean, and in the religions of the East did mean, that gross philosophical error concerning the very nature of being would be intertwined with any attempt to make incarnational in religion the most profound perceptions of God. It was far better and far wiser in God to be content with a Faith that was quite amazingly right about the basic precepts of God, morals, and creation as good, and of its nature allowed for developmental growth in a straight line as time and culture called it forth. Thus, all aspects of the truth could develop in harmony in the womb of time. A premature birth of the highest concepts would have meant a synthesis marred by deformity.
Messianism a ‘Mark of the Church’
With the passing of the ages there grew a ‘furor messianicus’ within the Faith of Israel, and the vision deepens continuously despite baffling contradictions in the characteristics of the King to come which troubled the interpreters. The King would rule over all the earth and all mankind, and while he would reign with the authority of a ‘rod of iron’ it would be also true that ‘a sceptre of peace is the sceptre of thy Kingdom’. All mankind would be the Israel of God, as in the vision of Isaiah (ch.60) or as depicted in the census psalm 87 which declares that all men and all peoples are known by God as having their birthplace in Sion … and there are countless other indicative passages.
At the same time there is the disturbing vision of Isaiah (ch.53) of the Servant of God oppressed, his life made a sin-offering, reigning over kings only because he has first gone down into the dust of death … There is the anguish of Psalm 22 with once again its prophecy of a worldwide and religious dominion over all mankind after and because of the passion of the Witness of God. With all the difficulties of the interpretation of the vision before it was fulfilled in the event, the important fact for us is that Israel was at once a messianic Faith for the whole earth, and that secondly it is Messianism with an all-important difference from the accompaniment of the messianic religion.
For, let it be said, we must look for a Messianic Faith, if it is to be the principle of control and direction from God over human life and destiny. To say that a religion is ‘messianic’ and to say that it is ‘evolutionary’ or ‘developmental’ is one and the same thing. No other Faith the world has ever seen has been of its intrinsic nature developmental. However great and noble in principle, other religions derived of man. They were of human vision and human experience; they began from the subjective and worked towards the objective. The religion of Israel did the opposite, because it was conscious of its origin in God, conscious of its present insufficiency, constantly expressive of its yearning and its expectation for a greater fulfilment.
Value of Messianism for Apologetics
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of this developmental aspect of the religious tradition of Israel, and of its direct continuity in the Christian Church. The passage of time, psychologically speaking, lessens the credibility of written and verbal evidences, however holy. These evidences remain very important; but, whether we like it or deplore it, the older type of argument for Christianity based upon the documents and traditions and heroism of the age of the Apostolic Fathers has no longer the evidential power of former days. It would be just as disastrous to speak as if they did not matter, or as if they had in fact been falsified.
The passage of time, especially given the hard facts of human sin and coarseness, brings the constant casting of doubt or throwing up of shoddy criticisms. There is the constant innuendo of ‘the credulous outlook and the primitive beliefs of those days etc. etc.’ The essence of the argument from motives of credibility is going to reduce more and more, so it seems to the writer, to the inevitable need to postulate a Divine Environing of human destiny, and to the manifest gradual unfolding of this potential, without contradiction of the previous essential doctrinal relationships of God to Man, and of Man to God. The line of the Unity-Law, or in older language the true Religion, must be able to prove itself by demonstration of the need for its existence, and of its own unique fulfilment of the type of Divine Environing that constitutes its life.
It is a long pull from the early chapters of Genesis to our day, and we cannot hope to answer every plausible misrepresentation from an intimate knowledge of the background of the times. What we can show is an amazing moral superiority and an amazing truth in the concepts of that early age of the true Faith, compared with the doctrines and traditions of men elsewhere. We can also show the developmental potential up to the time of Christ, up to the death of Christ, and beyond to this present time. We can show the fulfilment of prophecy in Jesus Christ in a manner which is quite breathtaking. We can, in a word, show Messianism in its full sweep, a direction by God not only of the teaching, and the looking forward of prophecy, but also a Messianism of type, and ritual, which is not reasonably explicable as an accident.
We can also show how the Unity-Law continues in the Christian Church in a manner which is a true continuum with Israel, lifted and elevated in the Christ of God among all the nations. We can show a Church, an International Synagogue, a Kingdom, which is and which must be Catholic, or Universal. If the Christ of Israel was in very fact the Word who is God in Person, then we must be able to show the continuity in this Church of the life, the action, the authority of very God, ever living to make intercession for us, ever operating with divine efficacy, ever teaching with divine infallibility: otherwise the Incarnation is an irrelevance of human history.
Image of Christ
We must be able to show that, while human sinfulness, and the unconscious effects of the Fall of human nature, have mutilated the image of Christ in history and have detracted from it in countless ways, the unique and essential characteristics of the Divine Environing of mankind have never failed. If they have failed, then the Gates of Hell have prevailed against the King of kings. There may be woeful scandals in the Kingdom – ‘it must needs be that scandals come’; there can be heresies and schisms; but there must remain intact at all times the Church which is the culmination of the Law of creation. She must ever live in full communion with Christ because she is the spouse of God, for her separation is unthinkable, let alone the divorce of apostasy; she is the body of which the Messiah is the head, and a living body may not be truncated and yet live.
We must be able to show one continuum of work, type and fulfilment from Abraham to the present time. As the ages pass, the lasting ability of the Church to declare her evidences afresh in every age to the men newly born will spring from her ability to show a continual and a God-given development in the theology of Christ. There will be found a power in the full, orthodox doctrine of Christ to evince for every era a new synthesis of divine and human knowledge. The power to evince new levels of synthesis will depend upon the orthodoxy, as a rising cathedral grows naturally, so to speak, out of the foundation laid to take it. It will not be possible to evoke the synthesis from heretical positions, no matter how ancient and traditionally loved.
The development called forth anew as history goes on will often be seen to depend on orthodox and Catholic doctrine which was unpopular at the time, perhaps which went clean contrary to the mood of the times, and the always ready concessions of well-meaning heresy. Creative development, like the evolution of life, can be based only upon soundly poised structure, otherwise the mutation will be a decadence. It is evoked uniquely within, and from, the constitution of the Church in perfect union and communion with Christ: and there is only one such. Only so can there be fulfilled without loss the words of Christ that ‘I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now, but when he the Spirit of truth is come, he will teach you all truth, and will bring to your minds whatsoever I have said unto you.’
We are saying that the Divinity of God has always dwelt in the ‘true church’ which we have called the Line, or developing society, of the ‘Unity-Law’ from the beginning; that the mark of truth is truth, the superior true and good, and that the process has been and must be a continuum from the making of mankind. Therefore Israel herself should expect, and did expect, a continuum of development; and the development was to include not merely the extension of the Kingdom of the Anointed of God, and the degree of peace and joy within it, but also the intension, the content of doctrine and knowledge of God, and the degree of union with God in love. This is most apparent in the Messianic expectation of old and is contained simply and truly in the incident of the woman at the well who said to Jesus of Nazareth, ‘I know that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all things’. The process began with Adam and will go on until the end of time. Man progresses, and the new knowledge of man must be regathered through the ages into a greater vista of God and in God. This is an aspect of the Life of Christ in the Church, an aspect which is it impossible to maintain today unless it can be declared in its essential bearings with the authority of God and not merely the enthusiasm of men.
Abridged from a ‘Theological Comment’ article by Fr.Edward Hollway in Faith Magazine in 1975.