Da Qin Luminous Religion (The Amazonian Sutras)

JMJ

Evangelizing another culture requires points of contact – not just person to person, but culture-to-culture. How do you reach out to an entirely new culture and share the good news of Jesus? Sure, sure, to the Jews the whole concept of “Messiah” was already there. The entire Hebrew Bible (in all of its linguistic diversity) was a preparation for Messiah. But when Paul got to the Greeks we had to look deeper: Logos – already in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures – came to the fore. What do you do when you get to a culture that doesn’t have the same Biblical antecedents?

Bishop Alopen reached China in the 6th Century. He and his entourage of missionaries brought with them Christian scriptures, icons, vestments. They were welcomed by the Imperial Court and instantly they began looking for points of contact even as they learned the language. The mission (mentioned in the stele posted at the top of this article) lasted until the 10th century. During that time the faith took on a remarkably Asian flavor as the missionaries learned to speak into the Buddhist and Taoist traditions that were there. In China the Church was called Da Qin Luminous Religion – “Da Qin” meaning from the Roman Empire. The teaching of the faith came in a remarkably Chinese flavor linking Jesus and the other paths.

What do you do when you don’t have the entirety of Hebrew culture and the rich, polyglot Jewish scriptures to provide the foundations of your work? Do you need to make people Jewish before you can make them Christian? The Church has answered this question with a profound and loud “no” since the Apostles were first asked this question. Over time, the Church has learned – as St Paul saw (following the Hebrew prophets) – that God has been preparing all peoples in their own experience of his revelation. Christ is not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Prophecies. If he is God in the flesh, the Taoists, the Buddhists, the Celts, the Hopi, the Aztecs, and even the Amazonians must all have points of contact for the Gospel.

They don’t need to be Jewish first. Nor do they need to be European. They don’t need to be urban, educated, or even “civilized ” as we understand it in the sense of colonizing people with our culture. What they need is Jesus.

More importantly: what we can learn, as Christians in the dying First World, is that the Gospel is both a levan in our politics, economics, culture wars, and colonialism – and is entirely liberated from and transcending them.

You can find Jesus without being a white, Anglo-American in suburbia. And the Jesus you meet will look more like you than you expect and more like you than the missionaries expect. And the Jesus you meet will enrich the entire Church in ways she did not expect. For the Holy Spirit was moving in your culture before we got there, preparing you, raising you up, opening your heart.

If only we could hear him as clearly as you do.

The Amazon in Burning

The Readings for the 31st Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nemini quidquam debeatis, nisi ut invicem diligatis : qui enim diligit proximum, legem implevit. Dilectio proximi malum non operatur. Plenitudo ergo legis est dilectio.
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

JMJ

Have you heard about the Servant of God, Xu Guangqi? He is one of the Three Pillars of Chinese Catholicism. He was converted to Catholicism by the Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci. The latter, leading the Jesuit mission in China, made some interesting choices in regard to Chinese cultural practices (including the veneration of ancestors). These were first (1645) rejected and then (1656) accepted by the church. In 1939 the Holy See re-assessed the issue and Pope Pius XII issued a decree authorizing Chinese Catholics to observe the ancestral rites and participate in civic ceremonies Confucius-honoring. I’m not familiar with either the writings of Xu Guangqi, Matteo Ricci, or Confucious, but I’m in no position to argue with Pope Pius XII or his Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The wiki sums it up, saying, “Confucianism was also thus recognized as a philosophy and an integral part of Chinese culture rather than as a heathen religion in conflict with Catholicism.”

There’s another writer I know of…

During my neopagan days, from about 1982-1999, I became infatuated with the writings of Aleister Crowley. My teacher said she was convinced that anyone with an adult take on the pagan religion would find themselves in bed with “Uncle Al” as she called him. I was not attracted to his work for the sake of “power” or magic. (He would have called it “Magick”). In all the pagan writers published in the modern world, he is the only one with any philosophical depth, with any sense of real Truth being out there somewhere. His entire philosophy was wrapped around words that show up in St Paul over and over: Love and Law. He added a third word which St Thomas Aquinas will bring into the mix: Will. Aquinas says, “To Love is to Will the good of the other.” Paul says this is the fulfillment of the Law. “Love is the Law, Love under Will,” said Crowley.

I’m not at all convinced that I won’t meet him in heaven. He was so very hung up on Agape. He misunderstood it, often enough, but he just could not let it go, or maybe better – it would not let him go. Truth be told, I was reading one of his more esoteric works when a line about offering all to the divine caused me to turn back to Christ. (“Don’t hold back even a pinch of yourself”, he said. “Or your whole work is wasted.”) And so here I am, meditating on Bible and still able to hear about Crowley. In this month of the Holy Souls, I don’t think it untoward to pray for his repose.

So. The Amazon Synod.

Remember, before we go on: Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is willing the good of the other. Is there any greater good to will for anyone than their salvation? Not really.

Did you ever hear of Pachamama? You may have missed the entire storm (if you’re lucky), but in short here’s what happened: in the time since Matteo Ricci when to China, it’s become possible to travel the world by airplane and so the missionaries in China, I mean the Amazon Basin, didn’t have to wait on letters and reports posted by sailing ship to get between themselves and the Home Office in Rome. Indeed, it became possible for the entire world to learn what was going on with the mission work in China, I mean the Amazon Basin. Instead of waiting 300 years or so, the Church was able to talk about it now.

Is there anything in their culture, like Confucious or Crowley, that might lead someone – digging deep enough – to come to Catholicism? I don’t know. Some priests did think so: and they brought these things to Rome. Sadly, they did it in front of the Media Circus called the internet.

This did not make the talking heads online happy at all. This really annoyed the Anti-Francis folks. This seriously pissed off the Catholic Right. They let loose on some Racist Rants about the people in the Amazon, about culture, about colonialism, about power in the Church, and – most importantly – about their own sense of the loss of that power. It was sad to watch really.

If you don’t understand the synodal process in the Church you might think that a bunch of bishops saying things in Rome means the teaching of the Church is thus. In reality: those bishops were, essentially, talking in front of the Pope as advisors. The Pope is the Decider Guy here – and what he says won’t come out until (if?) he writes an Exhortation. That document has the weight of the Church’s teaching authority behind it: it’s Magisterial as we say. Nothing else is, however. So we have to wait. We may not have to wait 300 years as the Chinese did, but if there is an “Amazonian Rites” controversy it will – sadly – be colored by race and colonialism. It will be the Church’s desire to protect and elevate her children to salvation pitted against the West’s desire to deforest the Amazon and grow hamburgers and soybeans.

If we do not love them, if we do not will their good, if we confuse our culture of solid housing and urban squalor, indoor plumbing and venereal disease, “free” elections and neoliberal wage slavery with “the good” that we are colonially forcing on them… we will fail as missionaries. Our love will die. And so will they.

We might not know their songs or their culture, but we can still destroy them.

Added Later: Look. The Holy Spirit is in charge here. God is in control. The Church has survived bad popes, silly popes, evil popes, and popes with kids in their house and politicians in their pockets. At one point the entire Church was Monothelite. Jansenists have tried to take it over. Arians have tried. (And the Aryans, too.) Gnostics have tried. Church still here. The Church “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail” is nonplussed by missionaries from the Amazon.

Fake News & Latin Rite Baptists

The Readings for the Feast of Sts Simon and Jude, Apostles

Estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei, superaedificati super fundamentum apostolorum, et prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Jesu : Liberavit me Dominus ab omni opere malo : et salvum faciet in regnum suum caeleste, cui gloria in saecula saeculorum. Amen. You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.

JMJ

On all feasts of the Apostles we celebrate the unity of the Church around Christ, and the living continuity we have with the Apostolic Church in the unity, today, of all the Bishops around the Pope: where Peter is, there is the Church. I’m a new convert and I tend to get a little Rah Rah about Francis. When St John Paul II died, I cried. Our Orthodox Parish went to the Catholic Basilica in Asheville as a group (at our Priest’s suggestion) and prayed for his soul’s ease. When Benedict XVI was elected and later liberated the usage of the Latin Mass, I nearly became Catholic. I followed “reform of the reform” blogs. Then one day (as the Cardinals were meeting) I found myself thinking what if the new Pope was named “Francis”? And I got verklempt, living in San Francisco. My entire office was livestreaming the Papal Election. When the name Francis was announced, we all gasped.

Although I’ve been aware of Popes since Paul VI, Francis is – in a way I can’t explain – my Pope. I love Benedict, and I sorry to have missed the young John Paul, but I became Catholic under this Pope.

One of the things that has been driving me bonkers lately is watching American Lay Catholics pull away from the Pope – this Pope. My Pope. The German Liberal bishops don’t bother me. The conservative African and Asian Bishops, the liberal ones from Latin America and all the American Bishops are with the Pope. But American Laity are pulling away. Why?

Underneath issues of theology – even when the Pope speaks clearly – I think it’s politics, by which I mean the American Culture wars that have been driving us batty for 50 years. Follow along on this Twitter thread, which starts with Fulton J Sheen and includes the Tweeter’s own meditations. (I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins.) In the beginnings of the culture wars, when American Catholics were – largely – white, middle-class folks in fedoras, union men with good jobs, and wealthy foreigners, the idea was to fit in. Catholics excelled at fitting in. Kennedy basically sold us all down the river by saying “Elect me and I won’t be Catholic.” He literally said exactly the reverse of what he should have said. American Catholics became convinced that to be “a good Catholic” was to be “a good American”: Patriotic, Successful, Boring.

The decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council were very prosperous – and spiritually dead. Fulton Sheen points out that “the youth” are leaving the Church because the Church was just an aspect of “The Good Life” and they discovered they could have “The Good Life” without it. Getting rid of all their parents’ markers of culture was more of the same: and so the church doubled down. (This is not in Sheen.) The Church became what the kids said it was.

Cardinal Spellman turning kids into their draft boards for the Vietnam War and using his priests to sniff out peace activists. Turning Catholics over to federal investigators… the Church caved in completely to the Political Culture. Some churches still bear these marks, having in them American flags near the altar and (usually) a Papal Flag as well. The Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus both bear the marks of this: requiring the Pledge of Allegiance and other shows of patriotism out of place in a religious organization, but largely harmless. But middle class, successful, boring, patriotic Catholicism became identified with what would be known as a “right-wing” position and, increasingly, a partisan one.

Then came the Vatican Council and the left fought back. And, it must be honestly stated, they did a lot of damage, they espoused not just harmless political positions, but sometimes openly anti-Catholic ones: communism, socialism, liberalized moral laws, etc. The war of Boomers against their parents Cultural Catholicism remained partisan, still had no depth, and was only just a Catholicism of a Different Culture. Hippies winning instead of squares. Clergy making bad choices to be relevant to the kids. Two guitars and a flute, felt banners, hand-holding, happy clappy, Kum-by-yahlicism.

And so now… we have people trying to reassert the tradition: the Latin Mass returns, the reform of the reform grows, the Tradening taking root and throwing far out the Modening Crowd. But confusing the perennial tradition of the Church with the conservative politics of the 50s. The Mods fight back with the policies of the Liberated 70s – and insist they need their felt banners for social justice.

Into this madness wade the hierarchs – some having taken sides in the political wars and others having the spiritual health of the church in mind.

The truth comes out when the Pope does something “anti-American”. But this is not a partisan issue for it comes from both the left and the right. If the Pope speaks of the Environment or Economy, the right gets upset. If the Pope speaks of sexual morality or tradition, the left gets upset. Both claim the Pope should stick to religion and not talk about these things… by which they mean the Pope should be more like Kennedy and leave us alone.

Catholics who have political axes to grind take over media outlets and talk schism. Raymond Arroyo is as dangerous as James Martin. Social media (including blogs and podcasts) become tools of wanks marshaling a vortex to spew political agendas. With the left in control of many publishing houses, the right gets TV and Radio, and both urge us to diss the Pope. The social media generate fake news because it covers up the real issue: our economic policies and environmental practices are unjust. But to fix them would make life in America a lot less opulent. So this is bad. Our passions and consumption – sex, food, greed – are all out of line. But scandal keeps us looking at the sins of others instead of our own sins.

We had this issue in the Orthodox Church: mostly converts (but also some troublemakers from “the Old Country”) who were certain they were more correct than their bishops. We called them “Byzantine Rite Baptists”. They could walk quite far from the faith in their “purity”, becoming Congregationalists in all but name. It’s good to see this is another way in which Catholics and Orthodox are alike in America.

Look: you can walk away from Pope Francis if you want – even because of politics – but that makes you a Protestant. You’re more like Henry VIII than Luther, granted: so you can still have Mass and robes and stuff, but you’re still Protestant.


Please support my writing on Patreon.