The Radical Nature of Christianity (1)

21 February 2022

The Gospel of Christ doesn’t come from this world, nor is it compatible with the spirit of the world. Moreover, the Gospel of Christ isn’t usually preached intact in the world, nor has it ever been applied in its true dimensions by humankind as a whole or by any particular people over the course of history. Christ’s Gospel was experienced personally by the saints and was implemented, to a degree, in the Church, particularly within the ranks of monasticism.

Our own times are often called ‘post-Christian’. But such a characterization of our era would, normally, mean that the age which preceded the present one was Christian- whereas our own times have ceased to enjoy this capacity- or that Christianity became obsolete in the preceding age and that our own times are result of that. Now, if Christianity is understood as the various ideological or religious trappings which had or have some relationship with Christ and his teaching, then things make a kind of sense. But if Christianity is taken to mean the experience and application of Christian truth in the world, then things are very different.

So, if these religious and ideological trappings which can be traced back in some manner to Christ and his teachings are understood as being Christianity, then it can be said that our own age is, indeed, post-Christian. And in these post-Christian times, many principles and values which used to be linked to the Christian faith and were generally respected, or which were part and parcel of the Christian world have, in fact, been re-assessed or abandoned. And the Christian way of looking at the world, by and large, has faded away to the point of disappearance.

But if Christianity is taken to mean the experience and implementation  of the truth of Christ and his teaching in the world, then neither the preceding era can be called Christian, nor can Christianity be said to have been really tested to the point where it’s lost its meaning for the present and the future. On the contrary, the best approach to the truth of Christianity, as well as to the people who have authentically experienced its truth, confirms that Christianity is something far beyond anything lived by those who are called Christians and that it has a great deal more to offer us.

In the discussions which are taking place these days about the cultural identity of Europe [and America], many people claim that, although these places consist of an amalgam of various cultures and special features, they should certainly be called Christian, because it’s only their Christian roots which unite them as a whole. Basically, this observation is fair on a social or institutional level, though even here, the sense of common Christian roots is increasingly faint. This position can be given meaning and content only through a more profound and complete implementation of these roots. At the same time we must bear in mind that any external approach to or assessment of Christianity will always be conventional in nature.

The truth of Christianity isn’t produced by logical syllogisms, nor can it be investigated rationally; rather it’s approached and recognized through experience. It’s personal, or more precisely, hypostatic truth. The truth of Christianity coexists with persons and is revealed in persons. It isn’t identified with objects, nor, of course, is it fully explained by them. In accordance with Christian teaching, the truth is to be found in the Triune God and is revealed in history in the person of Christ: ‘I am the way and the truth’ (Jn. 14, 6); and it’s experienced as existential communion with him. This means that the truth of Christianity differs essentially from what the world understands as truth. In any case, people today are indifferent to universal truth  and are interested almost exclusively in individual, conventional truths with no transcendental validity, which serve practical needs. And so, it’s often the case that Christian truth isn’t merely irrelevant to, but completely opposed to what the world promotes as truth. This is why consideration of the same things from a Christian and from a secular point of view is not only different but even diametrically opposite.

Christianity’s radical. Where it isn’t radical, it’s not authentic. The radical nature of Christianity has to do with everything that links it to the world. And this is because the roots of Christianity can’t be traced back to the world, nor is it nourished by the spirit of the world. The absolute nature of Christianity means that, on the level of what’s relative, Christianity’s radical. And this radical nature, as regards the level of relativity, means, of necessity, a relationship with the absolute and reference to it.

The truth of Christianity comes into the world as fire: ‘I came to set fire to the earth’ (Luke 12, 49). All secular truths are conventional and their relative value is dependent on the degree to which they’re objective. All these truths function on the level of relativity. The mistake occurs when they’re taken as absolute and become a substitute for the universal truth. And from a Christian point of view, the mistake occurs when, for reasons of modernization, an attempt is made to make the truth of Christianity conform to that of the world.

Christianity isn’t modernized when it’s made to conform to the relativity of the world and the secular spirit, but when it keeps its tradition alive. The content of Christian tradition is Christ himself, who died and rose and remains in the world, in his Church. And the observation of this tradition is put into practice through the experience of death as a factor of life. It’s realized through the self-negation  of each of the living members of the Church, which makes possible the revelation of the life of Christ and of the departed members of the Church through a new ‘cohesion’, the cohesion of the life of its members who are mobilized in the world. So the theology of the Church is always ‘cohesive’.

It’s natural, however, that Christianity should remain foreign and strange as far as the world’s concerned. Christ himself came into the world as a stranger; not because he really is a stranger to the world, since it was he who created it, but because the world became alienated and estranged to him. He came ‘into his home’ and his own people didn’t receive him. But to those who did receive him, he gave the authority  to become the children of God, to be glorified (cf. Jn. 1, 11-12).

People weren’t made to remain as they are. We were made to be perfected, to be elevated into something which we aren’t. We came from non-existence and are images of the One who truly is. We were made as something created and are called upon to grow into the likeness of the uncreated Maker. By nature, we’re human, but we’ve been given the authority to become gods (cf. Jn. 1, 11-12). God became human so that we might become gods. This paradoxical situation, which lies at the root of Christianity, defines its nature and shapes its radical character. Because of its nature and its character, Christianity is not readily acceptable by people, but is ‘spoken against’, as was Christ himself who became ‘a sign that will be spoken against’ and ‘is destined to cause the falling and rising of many’ (Luke, 2. 34).