Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Other Christ

Recently my husband asked me to read several pages of a book he is reading by John Stott. In that book, The Incomparable Christ, I discovered another book; The Other Spanish Christ: A Study in the Spiritual History of Spain and South America which I ordered. The author is John A. Mackay past dean of Princeton Theological Seminary and founder of Theology Today. The book was written in 1932. While I did find some of the material dated and unhelpful Mackay’s focus on the dead Christ of Spanish and South American religion versus the living Christ, (the other Spanish Christ), and our fellowship with him was of great interest.

In writing of the dead Spanish Christ, Mackay opines that many in Spain and South America saw him as victim without any sense of his life. They based their religion on their longing for immortality which they simply saw as a continuation of their earthly life. A true relationship with the living Jesus was missing. Mackay writes:
In Spanish religion Christ has been the centre of a cult of death. And yet, paradoxically enough, it was the passion for fleshly life and immortality that created this interest in death. The dead Christ is an expiatory victim. The details of his earthly life are of slight importance and make relatively small appeal. He is regarded as a purely supernatural being, whose humanity, being only apparent, has little ethical bearing on ours.

Mackay goes on in his explanation of the zeal for immortality:
The Spanish religious passion for life has not, however, aimed at life in the qualitative Johannine sense; it has been a craving not for regeneration, but for immortality, for “total immortality in its vilest and sublimest, meaning.” Its supreme dread has thus been death not sin.
Mackay shows how this concept of Christ worked out in communion. The ritual became all important but in a magical way. Those who ate did it as a means to immortality. “He partook of it not to become better through feeding upon Christ; He ate it as a magic recipe, proscribed by his spiritual advisers, in order to live forever.” The problem is care and love for creature and creation over care and love for the Creator. Love of the world more than love of Christ.

The contrast then that Mackay presents against the dead Christ is of those who above all else cling to a living Christ in a living relationship. Mackay begins the chapter about the different Christ, as does Stott in his book, by referring to Raymond Lull. He was a missionary during the 14th century who advocated for prayer rather than crusades as a means of converting the Muslims. In his eighties he was stoned to death by the Muslims he was seeking to convert to Christ.

Mackay writes “Christ is for him our Life, our new, eternal Life. He does not immortalize life as it is, but transforms it into what life should be.” He then refers to the seventeenth century mystics, in particular St. Teresa of Avila and St John of the cross. Mackay offers the reader that famous 16th century poem that points exactly to the Christian’s true love:

I am not moved my God to love of Thee
By heav’n which thou didst pledge me as reward.
I am not moved to cease to grieve Thee, Lord,
By thoughts and fears of Hell which threaten me.
Thou move’st me, O my God. Mov’d sore am I
To see Thee nailed upon that cruel tree,
The scorn of men, wounded despitefully,
Mov’d am I: Thou dost suffer and dost die.
Mov’d am I thus, my Lord, to love Thee; yea,
Were there no Heav’n at all, I’d love thee still,
Were there no Hell, my due of fear I’d pay.
Thou need’st not make me gifts to move my will,
For were my hopes of Heav’n quite fled away,
Yet this same love my heart would ever feel.
The Christian’s ultimate love is Christ. Because he is living, in union with Jesus the Christian finds real life. Life that begins now. Life that is transformative. Life that is filled with love.

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