10 April 2008

That they may all be One...

3rd Week of Easter (R)Acts 8.26-40 and John 6.44-5
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Jesus says to the crowds: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him…They shall all be taught by God…Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” Simple question for us: who does Jesus believe his Father to be? The Buddha? Krishna? A Jewish manifestation of Mother Gaia? Sophia, the spirit of wisdom? Or maybe the “Father” is just a time-honored, culture-bound image and name for the collective Jewish experience of the otherness of the Divine. No, Jesus understands his Father to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the First and Last Covenant, the Creator of all Things, revealed on Mt Sinai, the Passover, the exodus, in the flood, through the prophets, and finally in the Incarnation of his Son as a man in human history. And Jesus understands himself to be “the living bread that came down from heaven.” If you want to live eternally you must eat this bread, believing that the Father sent him to us for us.

This very simple, nearly universally proclaimed truth of the faith is regularly challenged by a sub-disciple of systematic theology called “theology of religion.” The central, operating claim of the theology of religion goes something like this (very roughly put): there is One Divine Being that individuals, groups of individuals, religions, cultures, ethnic groups, etc. all encounter through various “lenses” of culture, language, etc. and then these folks shape their experience into a religious revelation. So, when a Buddhist encounters the One, he sees the Buddha. When a Christian encounters the One, she sees Jesus. When a Hindu encounters the One, he sees a billion-billion deities in a billion-billion shapes and colors. The upshot of this argument is that there is no one right way to believe, no one right way to describe God; no religion is closer to God nor does any religion have any special hold on sacred scriptures: one mountain, many paths. The Buddha, Jesus, and Krishna are essentially the same since they are all merely culturally determined experiences of the One. And anyone who insists on the exclusive use of his or her path to salvation is a religious bigot, a barbarian, a knuckle-dragging buffoon. I’m reminded of the poet, William Carols Williams, who argued that using a close analysis of a poem’s formal structure to determine the poem’s quality is like trying to figure out the nature of a crab by cutting off its legs and stuffing it into a box. It would seem that our “theologians of religion” are really looking for a box into which they will stuff a brutally mangled divinity.

It is fairly easy to see how the mere description of a plurality of religions in the world has become a prescription for mandatory plurality—“there are many religions in the world” quickly becomes “all of these religions are right.” Keep in mind here the core mistake of religious pluralism as it is practiced in the academy and in the Church: religious pluralism turns a description of natural religious diversity into a prescription for enforced, artificial religious diversity. Is this what Christ is calling us to in John’s gospel?

No, it isn’t. We have in Acts the model of Christian evangelization. The eunuch is reading scripture. Along the road out of Jerusalem, the eunuch meets Philip. Philip sees that the eunuch is reading Isaiah. He asks the eunuch: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch says no and asks for help. Philip does just that and ends up baptizing him. Notice that Philip doesn’t try to convince the eunuch that the “lamb led to slaughter” in the Isaiah passage is, for the eunuch, a manifestation of some sort of Ethiopian deity, or some sort of tribal spirit, or something religiously akin to something the eunuch thinks of as divine. Philip proclaims Jesus to the eunuch! And the eunuch asks for baptism. Once brought to the Lord in the waters of baptism, the eunuch “continues on his way rejoicing.”

In the face of every attempt to spread our Lord thinly across cultures, we must respond (with the psalmist): “Bless our God, you peoples, loudly sound his praise! He has given life to our souls…!” One faith, one baptism, one Lord.


  1. What if the greatest story ever told was a lie??


  2. ...what if every film student with a digital camera stopped making asinine movies about anti-Catholic conspiracy theories as if these theories were somehow brand new?

    Garbage like this movie has been around since the first Gnostics decided to follow the Serpent into disobedience.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  3. Anonymous2:02 PM

    Where does the formula "until the ends of the Earth reveal Him" comes from, if I may ask?