Friday, March 21, 2008


It is Friday afternoon. Jesus has cried his last and we head into the continuous silence of 'the long Saturday', where we live and shall continue to live, waiting for Sunday - or not. The Cambridge theologian Denys Turner, who has explored the apophatic core of traditional Christianity and has shown how it connects naturally to a radical political commitment, once wrote that "the characteristic form of God's presence is absence". The One who is closer to us than breath is also immeasurably beyond our senses and capacities, and the 'longing' that forms the bridge between the intimacy and the hope-beyond-hope of Christian believing looks for all the world like a gaping abyss. This is why authentic faith is closer to atheism than the 'new atheists' could ever imagine (not for nothing was that term coined for some early Christians as they refused the Roman pantheon).

On the other hand, final refusal of the gods (not least the ones who do not look at all 'godlike' or 'religious', but come to us as 'secular' liberators in the guise of science, progress, the market, the military, and so on) can perhaps finally only be sustained by recognising the unresolvable silence of the true God. Jesus is decisively silent, in a key moment in the Passion narrative, before what Turner calls, if I recall correctly, the "frivolous moralising" of Pilate. The Son of Man, the true herald of humanity, has nowhere to lay his head. He is made homeless by the world of manipulation and power. In this way the transcendent God, who is not the contradiction of what it is to be human but its mystery and promise, is "edged out of the world onto the cross", in Bonhoeffer's memorable phrase. Before all thought, all theology, all apprehension of the nameless forms of the divine, all prayer there is, says, Gustavo Gutierrez, the eternal silence of God.

A few years ago William T. Cavanaugh wrote a really interesting review article for Commonweal (13 March, 1998) called The god of silence: Shusaku Endo's reading of the Passion - a critique of the Japanese novel 'Silence'. It is ideal reading for this afternoon and tomorrow. He writes:

What Endo was really after, I think, was nothing less than a glimpse of a homeless God. Endo's work can be read as a profound exploration of the twisted logic of the Incarnation - the journey of God from heaven to be emptied into earthly flesh and the assumption of weakness by omnipotence. Endo's personal struggle as a Christian in Japan was the setting for his investigation of the paradox central to the lives of all Christians: the paradox of a crucified God. Thus Endo weaves together the spiritual anguish of his characters with an embattled and paradoxically orthodox theology. Here I want to examine Endo's theological search in his novel Silence and invite other Christian voices - including that of John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis splendor - into the novel's strange moral universe. More here.


Jane said...

I discovered recently that Holy Saturday is called Silent Saturday in some Germanic languages.
You're writing so much I can hardly keep up!!
Have a good EAster

Mystical Seeker said...

The One who is closer to us than breath is also immeasurably beyond our senses and capacities,

Is it possible that the former explains the latter? How can we listen as if to an objective Other to that which is closer to us than breath? Is it possible that that which is so intimately involved is us and a part of us is also that which we cannot observe, perceive, or listen to in ant ordinary sense? Maybe what seems like silence is really the background noise of the God's participatory immanence that we cannot isolate and separate from the world of which it is a part?

Or maybe God's noise is the noise we make when we make the world a more just place.