Tuesday, July 28

Making a Muselmann

Hannah Arendt’s account, “The Concentration Camps”, offers insight into the horror of the Nazi concentration camps and their systematic degradation of the individual. According to Arendt, the result of this degradation is what the inmates called a “Muselmänner,” - essentially, the living dead. Other Holocaust survivors such as Primo Levi referred to these individuals as “the drowned,” and Jean Améry wrote about his own fight against this kind of inhumane degradation. In her account, Arendt contends that the Nazis began the degradation of the human person with the stripping of the “juridical person,” followed by the eradication of the “moral person,” and ended in the total destruction of the “individuality” of the human person. This Muselmann is the phenomenon that Arendt seeks to explain to the reader.

The term Muselmann (Muselmänner) is a German phrase that actually means “Muslim.” Another aforementioned survivor, Levi, once wrote that “This word ‘Muselmann’, I do not know why, was used by the old ones of the camp to describe the weak, the inept, those doomed to selection.” How this Germanic term for Muslims came to refer to the weak and inept in concentration camps is debated among scholars, but there are some scholars who contend that this term may come from the inability of a Muselmann to stand for very long due to the loss of the muscles in their legs, requiring them to spend most of their time in a particular position - much as the Muslims would prostrate during their daily prayers to God.

It seems, then, that the Muselmann lived in a kind of hellish existence. Arendt argues that concentration camps were similar to Hades, Purgatory and Hell of various cosmologies. In each type, we see that “the human masses sealed off in them are treated as if they no longer existed, as if what happened to them were no longer of any interest to anybody, as if they were already dead and some evil spirit gone mad were amusing himself by stopping them for a while between life and death before admitting them to eternal peace.” One may even say that the concentration camps - as well as the death camps - were literally hell on earth. Further, Hades is a shadowy existence, just as the Muselmann would face daily.

At this point, one can examine the three-fold degradation of the human person that Arendt describes. The first step, as aforementioned, was to remove the “juridical person” in man. The concentration camps were wholly outside of the penal system. Matters of legality no longer applied there, and there were both criminals and non-criminals in these camps. The presence of these criminals made it clear to others that they had truly reached the lowest level of society. The criminals, in some sense, had a purpose being there. But the punishment of the innocent, however, did not make sense. The worst part of of this, she writes, is that “the inmates identified themselves with these categories, as though they represented the last authentic remnant of their juridical person.” This destruction of their civil rights, of the juridical person, was one way in which the Nazis would begin to dominate the human person completely.

Following this, the Nazis would seek to murder the moral man. They would rob the person of the possibility of martyrdom, rendering their death meaningless. In fact, according to Arendt, “The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous... robbed death of the meaning which had always been possible for it to have. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never really existed.” In other words, robbing someone not only of their legal and civil rights but also now of their moral right to individualism, or rather, to choose how to live and how to die, was a way of degrading the Muselmann. It left the Muselmann without the freedom of choice. What few choices they did have were administrative - they were given the “hopeless dilemma whether to send their friends to their death, or to help murder other men who happened to be strangers.” Their only choice became murder - or murder. 

The process by which each person was degraded is alluded to at various points. Men and women would be packed into a cattle car completely naked, for several days with no food, no idea how long their trip would be - and some never survived the trip. Once arriving at a camp, they would be hoarded like cattle into different areas, split up, and their heads would be shaved, clothes, shoes and belongings would be taken. Each person, piece by piece, would have their humanity stripped away. They would adjust to a new change, and then have more taken away, until even their humanity was not recognizable as anything other than a withered husk. When the SS took over the camps, death very often became postponed, and systematic destruction of the dignity of each person became more focused than it had before.

The actions of the Nazis were motivated by an attempt to destroy the individuality of each person. This is why it is rare that we hear accounts in which someone condemned to death tried to take their executioner down with them. The third aspect of degradation, the individuality, had been so stripped that they began to seem more like a beast than a human. In this light, Arendt argues, to find someone who is actually a “human” is unnatural, and that finding a “beast” was the norm. Indeed, once the juridical person and the moral person was gone, what little individuality was left was chipped away until it was completely dissolved. Footage and pictures of different concentration camps and death camps show the cruelty and the horrors of how inhumanely these individuals were treated.

At one point, Arendt compares the Muselmann, following their experiences during the Holocaust then returning to the outside world, with the Biblical figure of Lazarus. In a sense, the person whose dignity has been stripped away, bit by bit, has gone to the grave, and upon returning to the world - comes back from the grave. However, this person has changed. They are no longer the same as they once had been. Arendt herself was born in Germany, and after she later escaped from a concentration camp, she moved to the United States. Although this parallel is inexact, one can sense a clear shift from the former to the latter. Arendt, in a sense, died in the concentration camp, and like Lazarus was resurrected into life, albeit having gone through various experiences. A person who has had their juridical, moral and individual nature ripped away from them can only be handed back, at best, as clothes that no longer fit. They remain in many ways the “living dead.” 

A final term to bring up is “Thisness.” In Franciscan theology, each person is created with what John Duns Scotus would call “Thisness” (haecceitas). Although Scotus was referring to the particularity of a given thing, responding to the concept of to ti esti in Aristotelian thought, the term has come to refer to the particularity of the human person. This inherent value is in everybody. One thing shared by every human being is just that - their humanity. Regardless of gender, religious tradition, political or social views, economic status, or nationality. Each and every person - is a person. The Nazis sought to systematically deny this basic particularity in each individuality, and each person today is called to remember what took place during the Holocaust, and do their best to prevent the phenomenon of the Muselmann from ever returning from the grave. 

[1] Levi, Primo. If This Is a Man / The Truce. Abacus. 94. Print.
[2] Vashem, Yad. Muselmann definition. Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies. 
[3] Arendt, Hannah. “The Concentration Camps.” 52-53. 
[4] Ibid, 56.
[5] Ibid, 57.
[6] Ibid, 58.

Monday, July 27

Views on Evil: Augustinian Theodicy

The problem of evil has a long and intricate history. The phrase itself, “problem of evil,” implies that evil actually exists and has a specific definition, and that whatever this “evil” is defined as, it is evidently “problem” that needs to be solved. In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Christian philosopher and Theologian, wrote extensively on this “problem of evil,” and shaped much of Christian philosophical and theological views on evil – continuing even today. St. Augustine seems to address the “problem of evil” in a way that combined theology with philosophy, which also increased Hellenistic influence on Christian thought due to his background in Neo-Platonism. St. Augustine utilized this Neo-Platonism to bring this concept of “evil” into a metaphysical framework.

St. Augustine is known to have gone through several phases of his philosophical and theological development. At one point in his life, he felt that the Catholic concepts that his mother Monica tried to instill in him were not quite sufficient. If Christianity taught that God created everything and was inherently good, then where did evil arise from? He did not see a sufficient reason to accept this Christian doctrine, so he fell into Manichaeism. This system provided a more Gnostic interpretation of reality; the notion that there exists a good god and an evil god, that dark and light are entirely separate. In short, it put forth a very dualistic mentality. This also had a profound impact on Augustine’s ontology – his idea of being.

After a series of events, however, Augustine left Manichaeism – he found his answer in the aforementioned Neo-Platonism. It was this that led to an Augustinian Theodicy. We can begin to find his views propounded in the Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, although certainly his ideas can also be found in other works such as The City of God or his Confessions. The Enchiridion was written toward the end of his life, around AD 420, as a handbook given by request to a friend. In this handbook, Augustine sees evil as a perversion of good – or privation of good. If evil is a perversion of good, this means that even those things which are evil also have good in them. Following this, Augustine discusses angelic nature, as for him, Lucifer (Satan) began his existence as a good angel. However, in his pride, Lucifer ended up perverting what was good in him and became what was evil.

According to St. Augustine’s literal interpretation of the Genesis 3 narrative, the fall of Lucifer from grace led to his possession of (or disguise of) a serpent in the Garden of Eden (according to Revelation 12:9, 21:2, Satan is identified as the serpent). As Lucifer had been the guardian of Eden (interpretation of Ezekiel 28:12-17), he knew the garden well. He used this to tempt Adam and Eve to fall to sin, thereby corrupting all of the Creator's perfect creation. This, Augustine argues, is the beginning of Original Sin. As a result, when Adam and Eve’s first children Cain and Abel were born, they already had Original Sin. This doctrine of Original Sin informs all of Augustine’s Theodicy. His reasoning behind Original Sin, in modern terminology, is that each of us were in the body of Adam when he committed this first sin, and therefore were fallen with him. Sin is therefore passed down genetically, so to speak – a concept also seemingly implicitly found in Hebrews 7.

Another vastly important concept within Augustinian Theodicy is the concept of the Will.
Augustine believed that an Evil Will existed so that sin itself, as a result of Origin Sin, comes about as a result of a lack of a healthy and good will, but possibly due to a temptation to do wrong. His concept of the Will, however, ran deeper than this. He wrote that God willed the universe into existence – hence the Greek concept of the Logos used by Philo of Alexandria as well as the Johannine texts. Unlike the Greeks, however, Augustine felt that this Reason was not primary, but Will, or in other words, Reason follows the Will, the Will does not follow Reason. He also taught that the Will is free, hence, free will. St. Augustine’s Neo-Platonic thinking becomes clearer at this point. Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist oft-read by Augustine, taught that evil was a privation of good, as noted, so that natural disasters, for example, are a result of the material world, which is corrupted by sin.

Bearing all of this in mind, how did these various Neo-Platonic ideas influence and inform Augustine’s literal reading of the Genesis narrative? According to the first two chapters, the divine being created everything perfect, or “very good.” God placed man in a garden, and proceeded to also make woman – Adam and Eve. He instructed them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the third chapter of Genesis, a conniving serpent (not identified, but as noted earlier, later interpreted to be Satan) encourages Eve – who subsequently encourages Adam – to eat of the forbidden fruit. At this moment, according to Augustine, mankind corrupts all of God’s perfect creation, and Sin enters the world. This Original Sin of Adam and Eve also sees them being cursed by God and cast out of Eden, primarily to keep them from eating from the Tree of Life, so that they do not live in an eternal state of sin and corruption.

Within his theological and philosophical views, St. Augustine’s Theodicy can be dissected into two major parts: that of Original Sin and that of the Will. Later philosophers and theologians both worked off of these concepts and criticized these concepts. The Genesis narrative certainly had a major role in the formation of Augustinian Theodicy, though other texts such as the book of Job also played a part. Controversy even within the time of Augustine caused him to refine and clarify his views, such as an individual named Pelagius, who felt that the concept of Original Sin was too harsh, and too unrealistic. Although the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon condemned the views of Pelagius as heresy, he placed more of an emphasis on Free Will, and felt that we were not bound by Adam’s sin, but if bound by sin at all, we would be bound by our own. Further, as we each have our own free will, we have the ability to make different choices, and choose not to sin. Despite the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius, many today may be described as Semi-Pelagians. The concept of Original Sin does not sit well with many theologians and philosophers, particularly as many do not see the Genesis account as literal, though others do. For this reason, Augustine’s Theodicy will continue to have an impact on philosophy and theology, though disagreement will always continue.

Paradox of One and Many in Hinduism

The documentary, “India and the Infinite: The Soul of People” directed and narrated by widely-known religious scholar Huston Smith (author of The World’s Religions), seeks to explore an important question. This question - “what makes India different?” - is answered in a number of ways. Prior to examining the answer, however, it is pertinent to ask, “different in what time period?” India has gone through several religious developments, as clearly seen in the developing Vedic literature and later Upanishads. The Vedic period covers roughly 1500-500 BC, and consists of four major books. It was, however, received through oral transmission until it was written down in AD 1000. In fact, much as Muslims prize those who can recite their Holy Qu’ran (called a hafiz), Hindus prized those who could recite the Vedas properly through memory. Following the Vedas were the Upanishads, written around 500 BC. But there was a drastic thematic, philosophical and religious difference between the Vedic literature and the Upanishads: the notion of Brahman.

In the Vedas, there is a worship of nature-based divinities (a form of polytheism, not necessarily pantheism). In fact, it is seen in the Rig Veda, for example, that there are eleven gods in heaven, eleven gods in the atmosphere and eleven gods on the earth. It is also worth noting that although there are only 33 gods in the Rig Veda, elsewhere, 33 million gods are to be found. Evidently, then, the concept of a Supreme Reality - the Brahman - was not prevalent. In fact, it is not found in early Vedic literature. With the development of the Upanishads, several new concepts entered into Hinduism. Each of these concepts may have had a minor role prior to this, but they came to the forefront of Hindu belief at this time - Brahman, Atman, and reincarnation.

The “Brahman” is the One supremely Real, the All-Pervasive (similar to a name of Allah). The “Atman,” or the Self, is the presence of Brahman in us. It is not, however, the Christian concept of humanity as the imago dei (image of God), but actually being God ourselves. Therefore, this important development from the many gods to the “one” is not necessarily a linear development from polytheism to monotheism, but to monism, so that the goal is to realize “I am Brahman.” This idea of monism is essentially that everything in the universe comes from one ultimate reality, or one primary source. The Rig Veda, oldest of the Vedic literature, does refer to the One who “breathed without breath” (Hymn of Creation 10:129), but does not elaborate on this point. This monism is also found in various Christian, Muslim (specifically Sufi), and Baha’i groups.

The Upanishads also developed a doctrine not used in Vedic literature, as aforementioned: that of reincarnation. From this arose the concepts of samsara and moksha. The fundamental Hindu belief was that the soul (or the Self) goes through birth, death, rebirth, death, rebirth, and so forth. Buddhists would later develop the concept of Nirvana as the telos (or “end,” “goal”) of life, but the Hindus living at the time of the Upanishads believed that each individual lived in this rebirth cycle known as samsara. The goal was to have good karma, and by doing so, eventually free oneself from samsara. This liberation is known as moksha.

It is interesting that Indian traditions developed as briefly outlined, as we may see similar patterns in different mythologies, though not quite the same. Ancient Egyptians, for example, worshiped many gods, but at one time held monotheistic belief in Akhenaten (Atenism). Ancient Israelites had a covenant with the one God, Yahweh, but some still worshiped local deities. This development from polytheism to monism is not an exact parallel, but worth noting among the annals of history. Among these and other factors, and bearing this background in mind, Smith’s documentary asks - what makes India different? The documentary does not delve too much into actual teachings, doctrines, beliefs, or developments of Hinduism. However, it does illustrate how these developments have carried on, and how some of their practices and way of life are permeated with these various beliefs found in Vedic literature and the Upanishads. For example, there is a plurality of languages (English is used for general use), although due to modern globalization, this comes as no surprise. The former British occupation in India is mainly responsible for this, but it added another layer to the already complexly layered society.

Further, India seems to have everything. Smith notes in the documentary that “ The visible India excludes nothing... [and] Their very soul is the Infinite.” Indians - specifically Hindus - have a deep respect for all ages of life, which is partly rooted in the belief in samsara: it is better to care for a cow, for example, as it may be your deceased grandmother who was reincarnated. India also boasts a plurality not only of languages, but of religious traditions. There are almost more Muslims, for example, in India than in all of the Arab world. Conversely, although Buddhism began in India, few Buddhists can be found here. Indian Christians, on the other hand, trace their origin back to St. Thomas in the 1st century. The documentary shows this plurality of religious traditions - as well as what we may call multiple religious belonging. One may be a Christian Hindu Muslim, for example. In Occidental Christianity, many would see this as contradictory, but in India, belonging or adhering to multiple religions is not unheard of. Evidently, the development between the Vedas and the Upanishads is continuing into the 21st century, particularly in a plural sense.

Finally, a significant point made by Smith is the Indian art. In India, Art is Religion - Religion is Art. The purpose of this art, he argues, is to inform and transform. This also includes dance and song. Shiva, god of dancing, is an exemplar of this. Also, sculptures are a major form of art. The wealth of different arts in India comes out of and adds to its rich tradition. One will still find statues of Vishnu, Ganesh, Shiva, and others, while at the same time, Hindus will be seeking Brahman, and some may even be found in a Christian church, worshiping Jesus as one among the many. The paradox of one and many in India is not something so clearly discernible or definable as has been detailed. Indeed, it is one of the great mysteries of India. Multiple religious belonging and the growing pluralistic nature of religions both in the East and West is contributing to this, and the very soul of India is constantly changing. As a result, one would be hard-pressed to truly make sense of this shifting paradox of one and many, a paradox that reaches to the heart of India. As Smith concludes, India can be reached by land - but - what of the soul? 

Saturday, July 11

The Cloud Rider and Biblical Imagery

The sacred Scriptures are known to have a number of images, type-scenes and motifs, and there is one particular image that occurs a multitude of times: the imagery of God riding on the clouds. Perhaps we picture a man sitting on a throne in the form of a cloud, perhaps we picture a stormy sky which the Lord of All has set into motion. Perhaps none of these images, perhaps all. Here, we will review the relevant passages in Scripture that refer to this image, and then we can further extrapolate meaning as a result. Further, by briefly considering Near-Eastern parallels and parallels with other religious traditions, we may seek to gain insight into how the original readers of these texts may have understood the image. The following are the relevant passages:
  • Deuteronomy 33:26, “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.”
  • Psalm 18:9-10, “He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.”
  • Psalm 68:4, “Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him – his name is the LORD.”
    • Alternate reading “prepare the way for him who rides through the deserts”
  • Psalm 104:3, “…He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.”
  • Isaiah 19:1, “A prophecy concerning Egypt: See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.”
  • Daniel 7:13-14, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
  • Nahum 1:3, "The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds" (possible reference).
  • Mark 13:26-27, “’At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”
  • Matthew 24:30, “At that time the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”
  • Matthew 26:64, “’You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
  • Revelation 1:7, “’Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen.”
These passages are indicative that God riding on a cloud is symbolic of his sovereignty. But we may also see parallels of this in various religious traditions. In Greek mythology, Helios, the personification of the sun, rides a horse-drawn chariot through the heavens, hence why the sun ascended and descended each day. In Norse mythology, Odin rides his ram-driven chariot through the skies. The Hindu god Indra, as one of his many epithets, is Meghavahana "the one who rides the clouds."[1] Thus, we see that there is already a precedent for deities riding a chariot of some sort through the heavens. But the most relevant and enlightening for our reading of Scripture comes from a Near Eastern parallel. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, "Clouds serve as God's war chariot in the imagination of the OT poets and prophets... This image of the warrior god riding a chariot into battle is an ancient one, antedating the Bible in Canaanite mythology, where Baal is given the frequent epiphet 'ride on the clouds.'"[2] In fact, "Baal was the god of the thunderstorm in the Ugaritic pantheon. His cloud riding was appropriate to his function."[3]

The picture of God riding on the clouds and across the heavens, we may surmise, was a polemical symbol directed against the Canaanite god Baal. It was a statement of authority and sovereignty. Further, we may see this evidenced by Elijah - the same prophet who denounced worship of the Baals, was taken up in a whirlwind along with chariots of fire. We may separately note that the "NT use of the cloud theme, however, returns to the theophanic, or more specifically Christophanic, function. At the transfiguration God spoke out of a cloud to identify Jesus as 'my Son, whom I have chosen' (Lk 9:35). Jesus, like God in the OT, rides on a cloud (Acts 1:9). One of the most pervasive images of Christ's return is as one who rides his cloud chariot into battle."[4] This cloud imagery is indeed an ancient one, and in fact, "is as old as the Exodus and the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night (Ex. 13:21). During the climactic theophany on Sinai, the mountain was covered by a cloud (19:16). In the tabernacle, God appeared in the cloud that was present in the Holy of Holies (Lev 16:2). We learn of the vehicular cloud, however, in the psalms and prophets."[5]

But it is also important to note that this epithet, or imagery used of God as the rider of the clouds, is one among many examples throughout the Bible of the writer taking an image used to describe another deity, and attributing it to God as a way of showing his superiority. For example, Psalm 104 is often speculated to be modeled after an Egyptian hymn to the god Aten. Given the Jewish familiarity with the Egyptian gods, this was written as an argument of sorts - a polemical hymn - against Aten, yet for the sovereignty of God. Some similar is found in the plagues of Egypt, where each plague represents a sort of polemic or judgment against the Egyptian pantheon. This is borne out in Scripture itself - in Exodus 12:12 where God says, "I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt," and does so through the plagues. For example, by demonstrating God's control over the Nile, he shows the inferiority of the Egyptian god Hapi.

Therefore, this image of God as the cloud rider or divine warrior may be seen as an image which the Hebrews used to shower the superiority of God and the inferiority of the Canaanite god, Baal. Clouds are also very important imagery in relation to eschatology and other prophetical and apocalyptic works. The image of a cloud can be very powerful in the human imagination - consider Job 38, where God shows up to Job in a powerful whirlwind. Clouds are often associated with strong storms, particularly thunderstorms and hurricanes. We can perceive them as signs of God's power - but we must not forget his appearance to Elijah in 2nd Kings 19, where God shows up not in the earthquake, nor the gust of wind, but as a still, small voice. Thus, we can conclude that this singularly powerful image of the divine warrior riding the clouds was useful for the Hebrews in their context, and today we may then ask, which images of God have a similar effect on our human imagination? How do we describe God?[6] How do we understand God? Therein lies the love that we may seek to find, shrouded in a deep cloud of mystery.

[1] Wilkings, W.J. Hindu mythology, Vedic & Puranic. Calcutta: Elibron Classics, December 2001. 52. Print.
[2] Edited by Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 1998. 157. Print.
[3] God Is a Warrior. Tremper Longman III and Daniel G. Reid. Print. 
[4] Ryken, Wilhoit and Longman.
[5] Longman and Reid.
[6] One anonymous medieval work known as the Cloud of Unknowing suggests that the way we come to know and understand God is through unlearning the concepts, constructs and images of God that we have crafted, and therefore come to truly know God through unknowing. This is in line with the Christian mystical apophatic tradition.

Sunday, July 5

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

Over the last century, the duty of solidarity and the preferential option for the poor have become major pieces of Catholic Social Thought. Solidarity has been seen as a duty, one which is not simply the desire to change but the will to enact change, as well as a call to commitment and servitude. In other words - those who wish to become great must become a servant, and those who wish to be first must become last – or rather, they must become a servant to all (Mark 10:43). The message of the gospel is transformative, and when we engage in social justice work we not only attempt to avoid evil but overcome it entirely. It is concerned with building the kingdom of God on earth and through God’s love in our lives, with loving our brothers and sisters and with bringing justice and love to all the nations. Questions arise, then - what might be some of the barriers to building solidarity relationships with people who are poor? What can be done to overcome those barriers? In order to explore these questions, it is important to read the signs of the times, understand the Biblical tradition and its perspective on poverty, and determine what it means to have a preferential option for the poor, and will provide a personal experience on how these concepts may be lived out.

Reading the Signs of the Times
There are a number of barriers, to solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. For example, the class system in the United States makes it difficult for those in the upper or middle class to relate to the lower class, or vice versa. Other barriers are racism, gender discrimination, the apparent stigma associated with associating with “poor people,” and so forth. The Church is known to read the signs of the times, and in order to understand these and other barriers to solidarity, one must therefore read these signs of the times. In 1996, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that in the southern regions, approximately 1.3 billion people live in poverty, and approximately 12.5 million children die each year from diseases that may be easily prevented with the proper health care.[1] But in fact, health care, clean drinking water, good nutrition and basic education are available for only about one billion human beings.[2] These statistics are nearly twenty years old at this point, but the signs of the times today indicate that the numbers have only shown an increased margin between the rich and the poor, as well as a continued challenge to provide these basic human needs.

Poverty is a source of suffering and can be seen to symbolize marginalization. Poverty has links to race, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, employment, location, environmental issues, political corruption and other challenges, particularly in light of modern globalization.[3] Poverty can also result from a particular illness, a disability or a lack of motivation and initiative. But most often, poverty is the result of economic processes “created and directed by humans. Viewed in this light, poverty appears as a phenomenon that we can influence. We can change such processes by making different societal choices.”[4] Some of the groups that have suffered the most from poverty are women, aboriginal people, displaced people, children and young people living in families.[5] Women, for example, spend a great deal of time caring for their children, taking care of their homes and taking care of their husbands. But this work is unremunerated work. Human rights are at stake. But one of the other barriers to solidarity and to a deeper understanding is how people view an issue. In Canada, for example, “if a parent denies a child food, clothing, and social security, it is considered child abuse, but when our government denies 1,362,000 children the same, it is simply balancing the budget.”[6] This difference of “point of view” can be a barrier that can and has created very real consequences.

When one considers the Biblical “point of view,” poverty in the Hebrew Bible is seen in a number of contexts. God promises to bless those who bless the poor (Psalm 41:1-3, 112; Proverbs 14:21, 31; 19:17, 22:9, 28:27; Isaiah 58:6-10) but to judge those who oppress and denounce the poor (Deuteronomy 27:19; Proverbs 17:5, 21:13, 22:16, 28:27; Isaiah 10:1-4; Ezekiel 16:49, 18:12-13). When the Israelites received the Mosaic Law, God became seen as a God of the oppressed. The poor were given the right to glean fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19, 21), and during the sabbatical year, the poor were able to get food by sharing in the produce from the vineyards and the fields (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:6). Further, during the year of Jubilee, the poor could have their property returned (Leviticus 25:25-30), those who borrowed from the poor had to return the possession before the setting of the sun (Exodus 22:25-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13), and the rich were commanded to be charitable toward the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). The poor were also allowed to share in feasts (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; Nehemiah 8:10) and part of tithes were to be given to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-13). There is similar treatment of the poor in the New Testament as in the Hebrew Bible (Luke 3:11, 14:13; Acts 6:1; Galatians 2:10; James 2:15-16). St. Paul calls Christians to “Remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). Dr. Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus as being born into poor conditions, and 2nd Corinthians 8:9 describes Jesus becoming poor for us so that we may become rich. Jesus is thus seen as responding and living in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed of his time.

The CCCB, in reading these signs of the times as well as rooting themselves in sacred Scripture, committed themselves to solidarity with victims of the global economic restructuring, “for example, the fishery workers and coal miners who watch their entire industries shut down; the industrial worker whose job is exported to a low wage zone; the office worker who is declared ‘redundant’ because of new technology or government downsizing. By taking up the path of solidarity with the poor, we acknowledge their importance in the effort to create a new, more humane social order.”[7] But the CCCB is not alone in these efforts. Other groups, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the anti-poverty activities of PLURA (an ecumenical group), the work of women’s groups, community-based organizations, the Order of Malta, Knights of Columbus, the Franciscans, Sisters of Charity and others have continued to extend an arm to the needy and offer a hand to the poor.[8]

The Preferential Option for the Poor
In recent years, several papal encyclicals have either directly or indirectly addressed the poor, such as the 1991 encyclical from Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, which notes that new forms of poverty have arisen in recent times, requiring an expansion of our definition of the poor and that the Church’s teaching on social justice should not be a mere theory but a motivation for action.[9] Prior to the Second Vatican Council in September 1962, Pope John XXIII suggested “an innovative pastoral and theological perspective when he spoke of the church of the poor. ‘Before the underdeveloped countries, the church is, and wants to be, the church of all people and especially the church of the poor.’”[10] Due to the efforts of Popes such as John Paul II and John XXIII, the Church began again shifting their approach to and concern for the poor.

This is where the “option for the poor” comes in. Since the late 1970s, the phrase “preferential option for the poor” has been used to ask, how do laws and decisions by society effect those who are sick, those who are young, and those who are in poor economic or social standing? In short, what effect do they have on the marginalized? In order to challenge injustices, Pope John Paul II declared that we need to listen to the poor and share their experience with them - or rather, to stand by and with them. Only by doing this can we truly know how economic and political decisions effect the poor.

This preferential option for the poor is one in Christian theology that attempts to respond to the question, “How can one live out the gospel in a world of destitution?”[11] The preferential option for the poor is concerned, as Catholic priest and scholar Fr. Daniel Groody has pointed out, “with a lifestyle and not with sporadic acts of proximity or assistance to the poor.”[12] It should become a way of life, and not simply a weekend outing. It is considered preferential in the sense that God loves all of his creation, but he has a preferential or a special kind of love for the poor due to their destitute position in our unequal and discriminating society. Therefore, the option for the poor essentially means that we are trying to share in their lives, to be friends with them, to be committed to their particular social class – to live with them, as we see in the lives of individuals such as Mother Teresa.

The United States Catholic Bishops has written in their pastoral letter Economic Justice for All that “Our faith calls us to measure this economy not only by what it produces, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land.”[13] It is because of this that we are called to uphold the freedom and dignity of the human person. This is when solidarity is also called for - for a kenosis, an emptying of self, which can allow the Body of Christ to see the face of God in poverty, vulnerability and powerlessness.[14]

Pope Paul VI stated that the more fortunate in society ought to renounce some of their rights in order to place their goods at the service of others. In 2004, Hilary Clinton indicated that certain tax cuts were being made on behalf of the common good, so that the margin between the rich and poor would decrease and those below the poverty line could rise above it.[15] Just as the early Christians shared all things in common, although this may seem like an unattainable utopian ideal, we must strive for sharing with those who are vulnerable and those who live in poverty. Making a commitment to the poor is intended to help them become more active in the life of the community and society at large. The USCCB has pointed out that “the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves.”[16]

Practical Application
It is important not only to understand the basis for the option for the poor, but also on how someone moves from service to a place of solidarity. At this point, then, I find it important to discuss an immersion (community based) learning experience that deepened my understanding of being in solidarity with the poor. In October of 2014, I went on a service trip to Philadelphia with a group of students. Upon entering the city, I remarked that our trip was in the appropriate city, as Philadelphia meant “city of brotherly love.” Over the course of the trip, I felt as though this love came to life before me. We stayed as guests of the St. Francis Inn, where we interacted and worked with the current ministers, as well as several hundred people who came for a meal. I had been a part of the Soup Kitchen ministry during most of our time there, and on the last day had the opportunity to go with two other individuals on ten home deliveries in the surrounding areas in Philadelphia.
When I was out on these home deliveries, I saw several children - one of the little girls came up, in her tiny voice, to tell me how grateful she was for the food, and introduced me to her small dog, Buddy. This was one of the most touching moments of experience. Later, when helping at the St. Francis Inn, I felt that I picked up on something. I met the eyes of many people, and it seemed that some of these people had hope and thankfulness in their eyes, others had visibly lost that hope. Affliction has the power to take possession of someone’s being and make them feel dead while still alive. But it is ministries such as this program or other volunteer organizations that can greatly benefit those seeking to live more simply, live in community and live in solidarity with the marginalized. 

The Epistle of James convictingly asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:14-17). This experience with the people of Philadelphia helped to move notions of solidarity and the option for the poor from the abstract to the concrete. It has made me more conscious of my possessions. It made me more mindful of how to live simply, but it has also continued to develop and foster a desire to return soon to these people, live among them, and become a servant to them.

“The brothers... gave [to] all those who begged from them, especially to the poor... if they were traveling along the road and found the poor begging from them for the love of God, when they had nothing to offer them, they would give them some of their clothing even though it was shabby. Sometimes, they gave their capuce, tearing it from the tunic; at other times they gave a sleeve, or tore off a part of their habit, that they might fulfill that gospel passage: ‘Give to all who beg from you.’”[17]

The above quote from the Legend of the Three Companions concerns the life of the early Franciscan movement. They did not give away their capuce, pieces of their habit or give of themselves because they wanted to seem “holier-than-thou.” Rather, they saw the command of Christ as an example of how true Christian love could be expressed. This is a form of solidarity, and a way of expressing the option for the poor. During the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” One would argue that this is true solidarity. We may also offer up our bodies, so that when I choose to help others I too may say, “This is my body, which will be given up for you - emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.” In doing so, we are offering to give all of ourselves. To offer up our being, our body.

Pope John Paul II has described the option for the poor as "a call to have a special openness with the small and the weak, those that suffer and weep, those that are humiliated and left on the margin of society, so as to help them win their dignity as human persons and children of God."[18] Further, the title of this paper, “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable,” holds a key trait and characteristic that must always be borne in mind when one decides to act on social justice and live out the gospel: vulnerability. We may say that vulnerability is and can be a form of humility. When we open ourselves up to the way the world truly is, when we open ourselves up to others, when we convey honesty to others, we are left completely vulnerable. But this vulnerability can also lead to a transformation of the human person that will help us to begin to live out a deeper immersion and integration of the gospel with those living as the marginalized and the oppressed.

[1] Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Struggle Against Poverty: A Sign of Hope in our World. 1996. Print.
[2] Ibid., 1-2.
[3] Ibid., 2.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 5.
[7] Ibid., 7.
[8] Cf. Proverbs 31:20, “She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.” So too, the Church ought to continue to extend her hands to the marginalized.
[9] Groody, Daniel G. The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology. 1st ed. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. 58. Print.
[10] Ibid., 17.
[11] Ibid., 5.
[12] Ibid., 30.
[13] United States Catholic Bishops. Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. 1986. Print.
[14] Ibid., 52.
[15] "Hillary: We’ll Take Your Money for ‘common good’." WND, 29 June 2004. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
[16] Economic Justice for All 88.
[17] From The Legend of Three Companions 43.
[18] Economic Justice for All 87.

Jews, Muslims and Christians in Medieval Spain

The relationship between Jews, Muslims and Christians has a very long and complicated history. In some respects, there has been peaceful coexistence depending on the area, politics, culture and social contexts. In others, the relationships have been portrayed as intolerant, violent and oppressive. Much of this has to do on who lives where. For example, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he portrays Jews in a negative light - yet where he lived, there were no Jews for three generations. Therefore, there was no experience and no dialogue. Alfonso "the Wise" (AD 1200s) noted that some Jews were showing contempt to Christians by celebrating Good Friday, fastening children to crucifixes, and making wax images and crucifying them when children were not available. Alfonso ordered that any Jew who does this is to be put to death - out of respect for Christians. Clearly, there were major issues in the Spanish territories. What transpired during this time?  (This brief article is based on "Medieval Christianity: Jews, Muslims and Christians" by Daniel E. Dornstein and the University of Colorado's class, Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain from Dr. Kathryn Andrus and Dr. Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila).

A Jewish presence in Western Europe dates back even to Roman times. Christians did not necessarily attempt to convert Jews, because they knew that Jews were God's elect, that from them came the Hebrew Bible, that Jesus was a Jew and that from them came Christianity. At the same time, however, there was rampant anti-Semitism, condemning Jews for the killing of Jesus. This sometimes led to acts of Christian violence on Jews. Throughout the time of the Roman empire to the eleventh century, Jews suffered from both neglect and from persecution. At times, those in power would use Jews as a scapegoat or a way to work politics to their own advantage, as politics and religion were so tied together. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, Jews became more marginalized. As a result of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Jews were now forced to wear a yellow circle to identify them, just as beggars and lepers were required to carry bells and other markers. This therefore separated Jews from much of society, so much so that Christians and Jews were not to have sexual contact. Although both Jews and Muslims were looked at in a negative light, the bulk of Christians had never met a Jew or Muslim. Christians did, however, consider Muslims to be political and intellectual equals. But Jews continued to be marginalized. In fact, even with the formation of Dominican and Franciscans, their preachers still spoke ill of Jews. But Christians and Muslims infrequently came in to contact with one another, as in St. Francis of Assisi's encounter with the Muslim sultan Malik al-Kamil in 1219. These encounters were far and in-between - except for the Iberian peninsula. 

Jews were present in Spain even since the 1st century AD. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Jews were faced with a number of problems. Several invasions had occurred - the Vandals, the Suevi and the Visigoths. The new rulers were Arian Christians, which created problems with the Catholics, the pagans and others. The Visigoths did not allow Jews to marry Christians, hold Christian slaves or build new synagogues. When the Visigoths converted to Orthodox Christianity, the restrictions continued and were worsened, setting a pattern for later treatment. Also, Christians who converted to Judaism were put to death. In the year 711, various Muslim groups attacked the Visigoths and became the head of Iberia. Relations changed - the Jews were treated much better, and as "people of the book," were also given positions of power. Christians either converted and fully assimilated into the new lifestyle, remained Christian yet assimilated some Muslim culture into their lives, or fled into the mountains. The Muslims. Jewish communities began to spread again, Jewish merchants were able to make more money, many European Jews moved to Spain to enjoy the Iberian benefits, and the culture itself was very connected with Muslim or Arabic culture. Therefore the bulk of the Jewish writings from this time in Spain are found in Arabic.

Although Jews were doing rather well under Muslim rule, Christians were not doing as well. Some Christians embraced parts of Islam but continued to be Christians, and became known as Mozarabs (they would be known today as Chrislam), created their own language - Mozarabic, and their own Christian liturgy. Other Christians, however, created much resistance to the Muslim presence, such as the Martyrs of Cordoba in the AD 800s. For them, Mohammed was seen as a false prophet, Islam was a false religion, they were cruel and relentless people, and the Qur'an was nothing but lies. The Caliphate began to wane in power, however, and Christians and Jews began to move North in order to better practice their faith. By 1035, the Caliphate broke into smaller kingdoms known as taifas. Due to the Christian Reconquest, Muslim relations with Jews and Christians waned. Strict observance of Islam increased - no wine, more antagonism. The Christian brought up more monasteries and became more involved in the politics, and as a result, created more hostility toward the Muslims. A Muslim mosque was converted into a Church, for example, which created even more hard feelings. Alfonso VI tried to be the "emperor of three religions" and pictured a united city where the three religious traditions could live in harmony. But problems arose, and he was forced to abandon this idealistic vision. 

From 1212 until 1391, two major events occurred: Christians had victory over the Almohads at Las Nevas de Tolsosa in AD 1212, which meant that the Christians were now on top, and the second was the aforementioned Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Also, in regard to everyday life, Christians would meet every day with Jews and Muslims, including shopping in one another's stores. Such economic exchanges did not necessarily provide for tolerance, but they did create points of contact. But this was not the only form of contact. Sexual contact became more common, and was sometimes quite violent. Muslims, Jews and Christians seduced each other, raped each other, visited brothels of the other religion, and so forth. By 1391, violence against the Jews erupted. Communities were attacked, Jewish synagogues were burned and destroyed, and Jews were either converted or killed. The relationship between Christians, Muslims and Jews was extremely violent at this point. During Holy Week, for example, some Jews became subject to violence.

By the late 1400s, there was a certain animosity felt toward conversos, or those Jews who had become Christian. Some of them were still practicing Jewish practices, and in the 1440s, riots were breaking out. By the 1470s, Isabella and Ferdinand (Spanish rulers) felt sympathy for the Jews and Muslims. In fact, some Jews were elected into the court. By 1484, however, the Spanish Inquisition began. It was partly a response to whether or not some of these conversos were true Christians or not. In 1492, an Edict of Explusion was issued, and Jews either had to convert or be exiled. Muslims faced much of the same problems. The Edicts of 1492 and 1501-1502 did not bring a complete end to the Jewish and Muslim presence in Spain. Many of the conversos were secretly still Jews, while others were truly Christian. Later saints, such as St. Teresa of Avila, actually descended from conversos. After the Protestant Reformation soon began, the Inquisition turned its attention to Protestants. Muslims were not treated any better. In fact, the authorities attempted to make war on the Muslims in order to force a conversion. Despite all of these terrors and problems throughout the centuries, both Jewish and Muslim influence is still felt today, and Jews and Muslims have in today's world come back into Spain.

It is clear from this glimpse into life in Spain during this time that the relationship between those in different religious traditions needed - and still needs - improvement. The continuing crisis in the Middle East is evidence enough of this. For Christians, the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate attempted to begin to forge new relationships with people of other religious traditions. Nostra Aetate notes that there are a number of similarities and shared beliefs between Christianity and Islam. There is One God, there is an esteem for Abraham and Mary - and even the Virgin Birth of Jesus, Jesus is present in Islam (though as a prophet only, not as God), and there are similar ideas about judgment as well as praying, fasting and almsgiving. Also, one may note the words of the Catechism on Christians and Muslims - "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day" (841). Concerning Jews, the document points out that we must remember the bond and the ties between the people of the New Covenant - Christians - and Abraham's stock - Jews. As Christians, the Church recognizes that Jesus was Jewish, that from the Jews comes the Hebrew Bible, the Patriarchs such as Abraham, and a number of other things that we owed to Judaism. For centuries, Christians charged all Jews with deicide, and a number of atrocities has been committed on each side, as glimpsed in this article. Nostra Aetate declares that Jews and Christians are brothers, and that we need to respect Jews and not support antisemitism by any means. 

Today, it is against the teaching of the Church to discriminate against anyone of another religion, nation, condition of life. All men were created in the image of God (imago Dei), and therefore all have inherent human dignity, worth and value. Relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians is improving on a number of levels, but not all across the board. For example, the 2007 document A Common Word Between Us and You was written by Muslims to Christians. Conferences have been held at the Vatican on Interreligious Dialogue. Meetings between religious figures of these Abrahamic traditions are becoming more and more common. Last summer, through a chance encounter I met an individual - a Muslim professor of interreligious dialogue - who had been doing research on St. Francis of Assisi and his proto-interreligious encounter with the Sultan in 1219. He and I had both been working on the encounter around the same time, and after becoming friends, we spoke about his time at the Vatican meeting with Pope Benedict - and later that year, with Pope Francis. We also visited a Muslim mosque together for Friday prayer, and a Sunday Mass with Franciscans. We can view St. Francis, the famous Thomas Merton and others as models of interreligious dialogue and continue to work together to avoid the past mistakes seen in the example of what happened on the Iberian peninsula centuries ago, and what continues to happen in the Middle East today.

Christian Theology in the Third Millenium

The third millennium is vastly different than all that have come before it. We now have the ability to travel through space, we have a global economy, we have an explosion of knowledge due to computers and online services, and our military powers have become more powerful than any age before us. Indeed, the very idea of having a weapon that could destroy the entire planet – aside from an act of God – was preposterous for ages. Even the idea of space travel was something limited to the realm of science fiction (as early as Lucian’s True History in the   2nd century). Also, if something happens in Egypt or in China, within minutes we can see footage via YouTube or a news source. If we miss our favorite television show, we can watch instantly online (This article is based on "A Theology of the Church for the Third Millennium: A Franciscan Approach" by Kenan Osborne, 2009).

Even television did not come about until the last century, as well as photography (although the earliest photo was around 1826), and the ability to travel at high speeds from one destination to the other – either by car or plane. Our world has not only become much more globalized, but we are reaching out into space itself, planning Moon colonies, and colonies on Mars. Colonies on other planets was mere science fiction fifty years ago, now a near-reality. By the start of this new millennium, we are also coming into a renewed ecclesiology, although there is admittedly no set goal in sight. The article details seven major issues facing this renewal of ecclesiology, issues that are shaping our new understanding.

A Brief Development of Theology
Until recently, church historians have referred to the earliest Christianity as a unified whole. Our current historical research into Scripture gives us insight no other generation has had. We realize that the church has never actually been a unified whole. There were the Judeo-Christians who were more aligned with James the Just (also known as James the Righteous), those who were more Pauline, Lucan/Lukan, Markan, Johannine, Petrine, among others. Among the earliest Christians, there was division. St. Paul refers to this when he says, “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1st Corinthians 1:12). Such divisions were the reason for the Council of Jerusalem around AD 49-51. In the next few hundred years, there were Gnostic Christians, Ebionites, Docetists, Donatists, Phibionites, Arians, Nestorians, and others. Today, we have Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants (and within that, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, so forth), and other Christian branches such as Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As such, the Church has never been unified and complete unification is likely nearly – if not – impossible to achieve. The basic question is: can we find an ecclesiology that takes this major diversity into account? I would posit that we could not feasibly do so, but perhaps we may find an ecclesiology that most denominations could somewhat agree on.

In order to come to this understanding, however, we must understand some of where we have come from. The Western Church was the primary Church for centuries, until the division between the Eastern and Western churches often attributed to AD 1054, although this was mainly concerned with numerous excommunications - which has continued even to this day. Certainly attempts have been made to reconcile the two divisions, such as with the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 as well as the Council of Florence in 1439. With the changes of Vatican II came efforts to reconcile some of the differences between the East and the West. Both Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests may administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation, and anointing of the sick. This shows a sacramental acceptance of the Eastern Church. There has also been an increased appreciation of Eastern spiritual and theological ideas in the West.

In the 1500s-1600s, the Reformation Churches not only broke away from the Catholic Church but also began espousing a new and different form of theology, different doctrinal ideas and differences developed as well as different liturgies, different ways of celebrating the Eucharist, different creeds (some denominations are still non-creedal), and other differences. One should point out that although the Protestant Reformation created a lot of problems for the Catholic Church, it also sparked the Council of Trent, which formed many important features of Catholicism for the next 400-500 years until Vatican II. An atmosphere of cooperation and accommodation has gradually arisen. A third millennium needs to face the reality of its own division in order to come to a renewed ecclesiology. Ecumenism has made great leaps and bounds in this area. Further, Christians of all denominations make up about 25% of the world’s population. According to a study done toward the end 2011 (PewResearch), in the 7 billion people, about 2.18 billion are Christian. If we add the amount of Muslims, Jews and rather obscure and lesser known Abrahamic religions, we have a large amount of the world’s population believing in the Abrahamic God (though not necessarily the Christian God).

On a different note, the Western Churches are experiencing an ecclesial inculturation that has powerful dimensions and that call for reconstruction. A majority of people do not think in a Euro-American understanding, so that Multi-cultural understandings challenge this. Yet we need to remember that Christianity has from its inception had an influx of other cultures. Jesus and his early followers were all Jewish, and were to some degree partly Hellenized. By the end of the 1st century, end of the 2nd century, Greco-Roman concepts and ideas began dominating Christian thinking. In fact, by the 4th century, this was the dominant thinking. This theological understanding, in many ways, still essentially exists although it is not the only influence on the faith. The Johannine gospel seems to betray a distinct Greco-Roman influence in its Christological understanding. The early Christian Gnostics certainly shows a distinct Greco-Roman influence. Notably, Plato and Plotinus influenced Augustinian theology, so that for the first three hundred years, we see indeed that there was a profound Greco-Roman influence (St. Ambrose also made use of some Greek and Roman thinkers).

From AD 300 onward, the so-called Germanic tribes slowly began immigrating westward. They brought new ideas and new understandings into the Christian world. The West began to slowly assimilate the Germanic epistemic and paradigmatic understandings. Elements of Germanic influence are still evident in today’s church. Although the Germanic elements did not dominate, there was a dominance in regard to liturgy and canon law. By the AD 1200s, Arabic scholars re-introduced Aristotelian texts to Western Europe. A renewed Greek inculturation – dealing more with Aristotle than Plato – came about as a result. Commentaries by Arabic and Persian scholars on Aristotle became popular in Europe. Raymond Lull (1232-1316), a prominent Franciscan tertiary (a lay associate) as well as minister to Muslims introduced the texts into classes. Others, such as St. Bonaventure or St. Thomas Aquinas, were influenced by the renewed Greek inculturation. From the late eighteenth century until the twenty first century, we find the latest paradigmatic and cultural process. The word that characterizes this latest change is relation (as well as relational, relationship, and even relativity). Vatican II sought to express a meaning of a church that would make sense in a globalized, multicultural, and multi-religious world. Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI called for an aggiornamento, an updating of the church. Vatican II did just this.

The issue of science and the age of the universe is often the elephant in the room. In 1859, Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, in 1915, Albert Einstein outlined his theory of general relativity, and from the 1920s onward, quantum theory was developed. Quantum mechanics effects Franciscan, Augustinian and Dominican tradition regarding creation. In this view, the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and humanity is only 100,000, which leaves a huge amount of time where humanity did not exist. How does this fit into God’s plan? If, our universe existed for billions of years without us and can continue to exist for billions of years without us, then we may feel that humans are fairly new and insignificant compared to the rest of this evolutionary history. The solar system also does not need us to exist. How does this complicate our understanding of God? The theological response is that God is God whether he created billions of years ago or not. He is an infinite and a First Cause God, so this would be no issue for Him. Christians believe that God had an original plan for creation and has revealed this plan to all of creation. Yet this claim is complicated when we adhere to the theory that we are insignificant in this universe. Both the Old and New Testament as well as the Patristic writings detail this original plan for God’s creation. How could Jesus be the culmination of history of humans does not matter in history? Also, how could all of human life be eradicated? How does this fit God’s plan? Indeed, the plan detailed for all of creation in the canonical Scriptures is entirely focused on God’s relationship with man. If we accept an evolutionary point of view, where did sin come from? What is sin? Why did we need a savior? Why did it take so long for us to come into being? Other questions arise - do extraterrestrials exist? What is the viability of the panspermia hypothesis? What was God's relationship to dinosaurs? Questions continue to be asked.

Moving Forward
Since 1994, the internet has exponentially broadened our knowledge as a human race, so much so that international events and data are immediately accessible around the globe. As a result of this international connection, many non-Western ideas and ways of thinking have entered into Western culture and understanding. The ability for lay Christians to immediately have access to Church teachings and history on the web has led to clarity among many and also challenged the old ways of the Church. For example, we can easily find out what is not officially taught and what historical changes that doctrine or practice has gone through. The postmodern paradigmatic changes are numerous, and relationality is seen as being central to this philosophical approach.

During the last one hundred and fifty years, the western intellectual framework has experienced an epistemic and paradigmatic change. This shift has challenged and changed Christendom and their theologies. From 1800-2000, relationality has become unavoidable. These changes have affected the world on every level – religious, political, social, economic, and intellectual. There are four defining categories: First, the Western theology has dominated for the better part of Christian history. This epistemic dominance is now being challenged and changed. The explosion of human knowledge created by the computer and online technology along with the paradigms of multi-cultural and the globalized world as a whole have contributed to this. Second, the diversity of cultures is no longer simply local, limited to tribes, states and regions. It is now a global phenomenon. Multi-cultural relationships are now being encouraged to be seen as equi-cultural. Third, Interreligious dialogue has occurred at various times in history. However, it has lacked the depth and quality that contemporary dialogues have. For example, Muhammad conversed with a Christian ruler when he began advancing Islam. During the Crusades, St. Francis had interreligious dialogue with a Muslim ruler. Christian churches have been challenged in their claim to be the sole source for salvation. Finally, quantum mechanics and the age of the universe are the essential elephant in the room where Christianity is concerned. Our ecclesiology needs to take these scientific findings into account. Evolutionary science is a major issue for the ecclesiological renewal.

The development of doctrine, theology, canon, the clergy, Christian tradition and other elements has been a long process, too lengthy to be covered here in any great depth. But this cursory glance at some of the issues that have arisen in the third millennium for Christian theology continue to deepen. The insights of interdisciplinary work, through psychology, history, archaeology, biology, chemistry, astronomy, and other fields continues to enrich the Christian tradition and open new and exciting possibilities and an already seemingly endless realm of mystery and ambiguity.