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Full Circle Salvation

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Cosmic Christ: Week 1

Full Circle Salvation
Monday, March 27, 2017

Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (1217-1274), a Doctor of the Church, philosopher, and mystic, also brought Francis of Assisi’s intuitive vision to philosophical and theological heights. Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus (1265/66–1308) both had a cosmic, universal notion of the Christ. The key texts for their Franciscan Christology were the first paragraphs of several New Testament books: Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:1-5, 15-18, Ephesians 1:3-14, Hebrews 1:1-4, and 1 John 1:1-4. I must list them clearly so you do not think I am creating some new theology unfounded in Scripture. We do not normally see what we are not told to pay attention to. So I am telling you to pay attention to what Paul calls “the hidden wisdom” or “hidden mystery” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8) where “the fullness of divinity lives in embodied form” (see Colossians 2:9).

Like Francis, Bonaventure is positive, mystical, cosmic, and takes the mystery of incarnation to its logical conclusions. Jesus is the stand-in for everything else! Bonaventure starts very clearly: “Unless we are able to view things in terms of how they originate, how they are to return to their end, and how God shines forth in them, we will not be able to understand.” [1] His whole theology is often summed up as Emanation > Exemplification > Consummation.

This understanding of incarnation as a universal event with social implications had been much more common in the Eastern Fathers, like Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Maximus the Confessor. Unfortunately, these teachers were less seriously studied in the Western Church after the tragic schism of 1054. The 12th century Rhineland mystic Hildegard of Bingen, and later Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and his early followers, brought back what I call “incarnational mysticism”—finding God through things instead of ideas, doctrines, and church services, which still persists as the mainline orthodoxy down to our time.

For Bonaventure, the perfection of God and God’s creation moves full circle, which is the meaning of resurrection. He intuited that Alpha and Omega had to be the same, and the lynchpin holding it all together was the “Christ Mystery” visible everywhere—the essential unity of matter and spirit, humanity and divinity. The Christ Mystery is thus the template, model, and goal for all of creation. The end is included and the trajectory set from the very beginning. Likewise for Duns Scotus, Jesus is not plan B, or a mere historic problem solver; he is Plan A from the very start. Christian faith is not merely in Jesus or merely in Christ, but precisely in Jesus Christ—both!

The theology of Francis, Duns Scotus, and Bonaventure was never about trying to placate a distant or angry God, earn forgiveness, or find some abstract theory of justification. They were all about cosmic optimism, deep time, and implanted hope! Salvation was social more than individual, just like the Old Testament covenants. Once we lost this kind of inherent mysticism, Christianity became preoccupied with fear, unworthiness, and guilt much more than delighting in an all-pervasive plan that was already and always in place.

As Paul’s school says, “Before the world was made, God chose us, chose us in Christ” (Ephesians 1:4). The problem was solved from the beginning. Any Gospel of hope must start with the “original blessing” announced in Genesis 1 instead of the problem described in Genesis 3. It invites us beyond the negative notion of history as being a “fall from grace” to the long and positive view of history as a slow emergence/evolution into ever-greater consciousness.

Gateway to Silence:
In the beginning . . . and the end.

[1] Bonaventure, The Works of St. Bonaventure, Hexaemeron (St. Anthony Guild: 1960), 3, 2.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 162-164.

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