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The Dawn of Christianness.

Is there Christ after Christendom and Christianity?

Sunrise would not be dawn if nothing preceded it, nor would sunset be twilight if it did not yield to something else. They mutually suppose each other but are not identical. It is in this sense that I speak not of the sunset of Christianity but of the dawn of Christianness. "Behold! I am making all things new!" (Rev. 21:5)

The word "Christian" may be the adjective of Christendom (a civilization), of Christianity (a religion), or of Christianness (a personal -- not individualistic spirituality). During the period of so-called Christian culture in medieval Europe, it was almost impossible to be Christian without belonging to Christendom. And until quite recently it was very difficult to profess oneself a Christian without confessing the Christian creed (Christianity). Today, however, there are more and more people who consider the possibility of being Christian as a personal attitude, even without belonging to Christendom or totally adhering to doctrinal dogmas of Christianity, insofar as the former represents institutional structures and the latter a special doctrinal set-up. I am not speaking of an individualistic position but of a personal attitude, keeping in mind that "person" always implies community. Christian commitment is indeed ecclesial, but this word is not simply a synonym for an established organization. Ecclesia ( church), strictly speaking, implies an organism, and an organism requires a soul, a life. An organization only requires an idea, a reason for its existence. [1]

History as well as anthropology reveal three kairological moments in Christian consciousness. They are kairological and not simply chronological because they mutually imply and interpenetrate one another. Christian maturity, personal as well as historical, consists in the harmonious and therefore hierarchical interplay of these three dimensions, the material/juridical, the intellectual/doctrinal, and the mystical/experiential. Harmony requires order and order implies hierarchy. History also indicates that there has often been a sociological preponderance of one or the other of these three dimensions, but in the third Christian millennium the Christian conscience seems especially attracted by the third dimension.

Some important distinctions need to be made. To be Christian as synonymous with being a member of Christendom belongs primarily to the past -- and in the dreams of a few, to the future -- but for the majority of Christians this is not a matter of concern. Such a secularized Christendom characterized some sovereign states of the past, nor has its spirit has completely disappeared; indeed, it cannot be completely eliminated from the Christian consciousness. Even in our day, some Christians, while recognizing the failure of Constantine, Charlemagne, Boniface VIII, and others, or dreaming of a purified theocracy such as Dante conceived it long ago and Solovyov more recently, hope to restore a new and renewed Christendom. George Bush, Augusto Pinochet, Margaret Thatcher, and John Paul II -- making allowances for their very different understanding of such a project--could be considered representative of this attitude.

The theological argument in favor of Christendom does not lack strength. If the Christ-event signifies anything in the history of humanity, it is because of the union, with distinction but without separation, of the human and the divine. This event unites divine transcendence with human immanence, without being trapped in monism, spiritual or material, or in any metaphysical dualism. Not only is Christ totally divine and totally human, but we ourselves are called to be fully human and fully divine. Society itself, therefore, has a transcendent vocation; though we distinguish, we cannot completely separate, the political order from the religious. Justice, for example, belongs to both, and must therefore become incarnate in society. When the Gospel refers to the Kingdom of God and its justice, there is no distinction between political justice and religious justification. The natural/supernatural dichotomy is lethal on both sides; religion cannot be separated from life. The Christic event is incarnational not o nly as an individual happening but as an historic action. We should therefore appreciate the efforts toward restoration undertaken by those thinkers and Christian statesmen who, having overcome the fever of individualism and the crisis of the Enlightenment, strive to reconstruct the lost unity of civilization by returning to the ideal of Christendom.

The strength of this ideal is its holism: it embraces the whole of Man [sic] without permitting compartmentalization. We are not Christian on one side, and Coptic, Irish, Capitalist, Marxist, or whatever else, on the other. But its great temptations are totalitarianism and fanaticism -- philosophically speaking: monism. It is not possible to homogenize everything without mutilating human nature. I suspect that today's "New World Order," like the Holy Alliance of an earlier age, is little more than a restorationist attempt to recover the lost ideal of Christendom. The latter at least offered an escape valve through transcendence; today the mighty deeds of God through the Franks (gesta dei per francos) have become Operation Desert Storm: in one word, globalization.

It is part of human nature as well as Christian dynamism to erect structures where the human or Christian ideal of a full life may be visible in the smallest details. In the past such structures were called "Christian empire" or "Christian nation" (even the Jesuit "reductions" of Paraguay), and later on, "religious orders"; now we have new sects, churches, and movements. All these are ambivalent -- and not totally obsolete. Nevertheless, the Christ-event cannot be completely identified with Christendom: Christ's kingdom is not of this world. There also exist Christianity and Christianness; in the Father's house there are many mansions.

When Christendom began to decline as a political and religious regime in the sixteenth century, its place in Christian consciousness was increasingly taken by Christianity as religion. To be Christian as a believer in Christianity meant to belong to one religion among others. The Christian religion may be more or less pure than others but it would represent not only an abuse of language but abusive language to denounce other religions as false or deny them the character of religion. Relatively little notice has been taken of the difference between believing in a single world order, Christendom, and believing in a single true religion in the contemporary meaning of the word, which was not that of Augustine when he wrote De vera religione. [2] Those who talk today about a world market, global democracy, or universal technology are still living in a kind of Christendom ideology--which leaves no place for other world orders. Within the mentality of this second moment, however, there may be a plurality of religio ns, even though all may defend their own as the true one. Those, however, who oppose a universal Christendom, whether religious or secular, are burnt as heretics, resisted as terrorists, or eliminated as dangerous elements because they challenge the inviolable status quo.

The problems of Christianity as religion differ from those of Christendom as an integral and complete human order. Less than two centuries ago Catholics who denied the "divine right" of the Papal States were excommunicated. Those who questioned the burning of heretics were considered to be acting "against the will of the Holy Spirit" (Denz. 1483). Today no catholic Christian feels obliged to obey the commands of Medieval and Renaissance popes; such obligations were part of Christendom, not of Christianity. But problems of conscience present themselves even today, for many Catholics who have not assimilated -- as Ficino, Pico de le Mirandola, Erasmus, Luther, and Comenius did -- the change from Christendom to Christianity.

It is also worth noting that some relics of Christendom -- like papal nuncios -- still exist, and their function may still possess a certain historical justification. Canon law still binds, and papal encyclicals keep their authority -- to use examples from Catholicism -- but they no longer exhaust the modes of being Christian, or even Catholic. We no longer need to side with the Guelphs or the Ghibellines, or to vote for the right or the left, in order to be Christian. We should nevertheless hold to Christianity as a doctrine. We are intelligent beings; intellect belongs to our nature. It is not possible to have a church without a distinctive and uniting ideological infrastructure. A creed seems indispensable to identify the Christian. But the human person is more than a thinking animal (Descartes's res cogitons), more even than what Pascal called a thinking reed (roseau pensant). Christianity as Christian doctrine does not exhaust the Christic.

Not enough attention has been given to the rupture within the Christian conscience brought about by the passing from Christendom to Christianity. When Christianity identifies itself as creedal, the creed changes from being something symbolic ("symbol of the Apostles") and of the heart (the credo retains this popular understanding and the Greek word for heart may have a doctrinal content) to mean a doctrine, indisputable; and the dogmas which the Latins translated as placita, have evolved from representing a well-considered opinion of the majority into a rigid and unchangeable formulation. The anthropological basis of Christianity is born with modernity: the human is now no more than a "rational animal," and the logos is reduced to reason. But a human being is not just thought, and thinking is not simply conceptualizing. It is Christianity understood as a doctrinal system that is in crisis.

Nevertheless, we should not fail to underline the grandeur of Christianity as a doctrinal system. The intelligence is perhaps the most noble part of the human. In any case, the articulation of faith as belief is a human imperative, and Christianity is identified by its beliefs. But identification is not the same as identity; Christian identification is not a synonym for Christian identity. Identification is an outer sign; identity is an inner self-awareness. [3]

In our time a third aspect of our subject is emerging with power: to be Christian may also be understood as the confession of a personal faith that adopts an attitude similar to that of Christ, to the degree that Christ represents the central symbol of one's life. I call this aspect Christianness, by which I hope to suggest a new Christic consciousness. The novelty is sociological and consists above all in passing from an esoteric awareness, which might be called mystical, to outward forms of realization.

This new conviction is spreading all over the world, especially among the young, and appeals to those who have become liberated from the overinstitutionalization of Christianity, especially in its official form. In any case, it is a sociological fact, not just a matter of new ideas but of an ecclesial reality. This is not simply aggiornamento, more or less new (even if I sometimes suspect that this famous expression of John XXIII was a diplomatic strategy that saved him from open rebellion by the curia). But new wine requires new wineskins and cannot be satisfied with a patch here and there; we are dealing with an ecclesial mutation in the very self-understanding of the Christian. A leap in the history of Being through the achievement of a new level of consciousness in the human person -- and therefore a mutation in the nature of that being (human) whose essence is self-understanding. We speak of human dignity and are hardly aware of our cosmic responsibility. Metaphysics is not an atemporal discipline since Time and Being are inseparable. God is free of time (time-free), but is not without time (timeless): although it does not tie him down, time is not outside God." We are God's fellow-workers (synergoi)" (1 Cor. 3:9) means something.

Christianness constitutes the Christian contribution to this cosmic change in the adventure of the universe in which we are all involved. Let us not forget that the human species is in danger of becoming extinct, whether by self-destruction or by allowing the biosphere to destroy it. To study theology or science today without taking this into account would be intellectual myopia and spiritual insensibility. [4]

Christianness does not need to be interpreted as an exclusively historical fact. It is something we are in the process of creating, but it is not being made only by us. A distinction should be made between Christianity, church, and Christ, referring to the social aspect of religion, its sacramental dimension, and its mystical nucleus. It is the last, which might be called the Christic principle, that is related to Christianness.

Some contemporary issues in Roman Catholicism offer useful reference points. The use of contraceptives is formally prohibited by the supreme authority of Catholicism, but a large number of church members disregard this law and consider themselves as good Catholics. A similar situation is developing in regard to divorce in some countries. In addition, there are about eighty thousand validly ordained Catholic priests (besides many other thousands who have asked for laicization) who consider themselves priests in spite of having broken the law of celibacy, which they find unjust. Abortion, ehthanasia, capital punishment, pacifism, and capitalism offer similar conflict situations; many ask themselves: can one be a follower of Christ and support today's world capital economy?

Other examples are more strictly doctrinal. What is happening to belief in transubstantiation, the existence of hell, and the reality of resurrection? What is important for our subject is to recognize the good conscience with which committed Catholics have simply discarded what no longer corresponds to their deepest convictions, but do not for that reason consider themselves outside the church or separated from Christ. But Christianness is not an individualistic position, as if the Christian event were something we made up according to our taste, an uncontrolled anarchy that capriciously calls itself Christian. [5] Although it inevitably includes the possibility of heresy and apostasy, what cannot be denied is the emergence of a new sensus and consensus fidelium, the appearance of diverse interpretations of Christic reality. Our present situation is one in which Christianness has not yet distinguished itself from Christianity. In no way am I minimizing the value of tradition and authority; nor am I defending an individualistic position or saying that the cited examples have all to be solved by disregarding the hierarchical structure of reality. What I am contesting is the assumption that the nature of reality is dialectical, so that we confuse opposition with contradiction. To criticize an idea does not mean to accept its contradictory.

The example of Christian base communities in Latin America is instructive. They have spontaneously developed a Christianness that is not simply theoretical or elitist, and does not reflect official Christianity. The Vatican has seen this clearly; institutionalized Christianity has sufficient theological discernment, common sense, or simply political acumen to realize that it cannot alienate itself from one of the most important Christian continents. It is trying to reach political understanding with the grassroots communities in order that Christendom, Christianity, and Christianness not break apart.

Traditional Christianness was constituted by the mystical attitude, as well as by a certain Christian esotericism. Because the Christianness of the last century was basically pietistic and individual, it could form part of institutionalized Christianity without any great tension. But the Christianness of the present takes the form of a more personal and political commitment, and therefore presents a challenge to Christianity. Here as elsewhere, wisdom consists in transforming destructive tensions into creative polarities.

Looking back, we might say that Christianness is distinguished from Christianity in the same way that Christianity is distinguished from Christendom. Of course, every period is one of transition, but some kairological moments are markedly different than others. Nor should Christianness be described only in terms of a negative relationship with Christianity. The three moments compenetrate each other mutually and cannot be completely separated, even though they must be distinguished. There is a theological reason for this. Many religions have sacred scriptures that are normative. In two monotheistic religions springing from Abraham, law is part of revelation itself (Torah, Koran). This does not occur in the Christic event: Christians have no law that is properly theirs. For Christians for many centuries, the Bible meant only the Old Testament; the New Testament was not considered sacred scripture. [6] The sacred was not a Book but a Person, not a doctrine contained in a text but an experience encountered in a sacrament. It is also significant to observe that the Christian tradition has no proper name for that Mystery which some call the Supreme Being. "God" is a common name -- which for Jesus was His Father. All this suggests the possibility of a Christianness different from Christendom and Christianity.

The example of Jesus Christ is enlightening. He is someone who denounces, protests, even transgresses, but he is no deserter, no traitor. Although Peter had learned to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19-20), as a loyal Jew he did not want to abolish circumcision. In this case, however, he accepted correction from his companions and the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:1ff).

In fact, if we look back in history, we shall find a good number of Christians who lived the moment of Christianness after having gone beyond, without rejection, Christendom and Christianity. In addition to many simple yet profound believers, one might recall Tertullian, Origen, Eckhart, Vico, Joachim de Flores, Dante, Nicolas of Cusa, Joan of Arc, Kant, and Hegel; in our own time, Teilhard de Chardin, Padre Pio, Thomas Merton, and Abhistiktananda might well be mentioned.

Different interpretations of the Gospel precept, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice" (Luke 12:31) could serve as a way of expressing this triple structure of Christian consciousness. I am thinking of Christ's answer to the Pharisees. The first attitude would understand "the kingdom" as a reality in our midst (among us); the kingdom is on earth and has political connotations. The second attitude underlies the same Greek article, entos, and understands that the kingdom is between us in such a way that the community or cultural aspect has primordial importance. Finally, the third attitude is inclined to interpret the kingdom as being within us, accentuating the dimension of interiority. Something similar might be said of the word "justice"; it would refer principally either to a political symbol, a doctrinal concept, or an interior reality. The Gospel word actually means justice as well as justification.

The sociological implications of these distinctions are important. One cannot doubt that there is an identity crisis today for Christians all over the world. Although there are "restorationist" movements that try to go back to a modernized Christianity and theological tendencies struggling for a reformed Christianity, a growing number of responsible persons are striving to articulate a genuinely Christian confession of faith without being totally conditioned by the historic weight of the past or the doctrinal constrictions of the tradition. What they are attempting is not a privatization of their Christian identity -- although they are sometimes constrained to a prudent interiorization -- so much as an incarnation of this identity as more the fruit of inner experience than of historical and doctrinal inertia. Realizing that the world is undergoing a mutation, they are trying to live this change in their depths -- at the religious level of their consciousness.

In simple terms, a growing number of our contemporaries want to be religious, believing, and even Christian, but without the contaminations they feel have been added to these words. They aspire to rediscover their roots in order to grow in a soil that has not been spoiled by either the fertilizer of ancient times, the shrubs of the middle ages, modern pesticides, or the radiations of postmodernity. Such a struggle for renewal is innate in the human person; it has always been so, but in our time it is acquiring historic, even cosmic proportions.

Christianness is a new but also an ancient form of Christic existence. It was known from the beginning to many mystics and contemplatives but was unable to take a sociological form -- that is, the ecclesial shape that is now becoming visible. It implies a state of awareness and life manifest in a twofold liberation. This means, first, liberation from a fixed and determined political order, which until recently was regarded as indispensable for the practice of "Christian values" (Christendom). It is also a liberation from identifying being Christian with the acceptance of a determined series of Christian doctrines (Christianity). In other words, this new Christic self-understanding does not find itself linked to any determined political order or with a fixed intellectual system. Christianness is neither a new political form nor a new intellectual creed; it is a commitment which, although it needs specific expressions and a concrete political order to manifest itself, does not identify itself with any of these things.

I already referred to pluralism and Christian/human maturity -- they go together. Although there is need of Christendoms and Christianities -- that is, political institutions and doctrinal systems -- to give a home to Christianness, pluralism is essential. People need community, which depends on a living organism, on institutions that, like the Sabbath, serve the human person. People also need doctrinal formulations and systems of thought capable of giving expression to what is deepest in the human being, without their pretending to be absolute or to exhaust the mystery of reality.

In addition, Christianness and mystical experience need to be relativized in a double way. Any mystical experience that hopes to transcend the limits of the ineffable and of pure darkness must integrate the social and doctrinal dimensions represented by Christendom and Christianity. Ultimately, no human beings, whether as individuals or collectively as humanity, can claim to be the absolute subject of mystical experience. Nevertheless, in the modern world I believe that only the mystics will survive. The rest will be crushed by the system if they rebel, or will suffocate within the system if they seek refuge in it.

I have intentionally refrained from making any reference to the first three centuries of the Christian community and from calling our third kairological moment Christic. This is because, first, I do not claim that the believers in Christendom or Christianity were "bad" or immature Christians; the first two kairological moments are as perfectly and ambiguously Christian as the third. We are not the pure ones. Secondly, it needs to be recognized that primitive Christianity, despite its foundational authority, was not the perfect society described in the Acts of the Apostles; it contained all the latent problems that eventually became visible. [7] A third reason is theological: the primitive community has authority, but it is neither paradigmatic nor normative. The norm for the Christic does not reside essentially in the past. The Christ-event is not only historical; it is a mystic reality, a revelation of that which has been from the beginning and is real even now. This implies a revelation that is not exclusi vist, and rejects a necessarily single way of thinking or seeing reality.

In other words, Christianness takes seriously the problem of going beyond the Torah, and does not wish to fall into the temptation of Christendom by replacing the Old Testament with a New Alliance. More concretely, baptism is not a substitute for circumcision. After Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and continuing reliance on weapons of wholesale destruction, we need to recognize that the God of History, supposing that such ever reigned, has resigned. We need rather to remember the slaves, the indigenous population of the Americas, the oppressed and vanquished of every century. Jesus Christ was not the Lord of history but its victim -- and yet he was king and revealed a kingdom.

The experience of Christian maturity is threefold. It is the meeting with Christ in the center of one's self, in the center of the human community, and in the center of reality. In Christic language, the human task consists in the necessary concentration to bring all three to form a threefold concentric sphere, without reducing them to only one. Christian faith does not spring to life "because of your word," as it did for the Samaritan woman (John 4:42), nor because of authority, nor even because of testimony or witness; it is based on experience, it is something that has been tasted (1 John 1:1-2).

Such a Christianness seems to emerge today as a new hope. But hope does not belong to the future but to the Invisible. As for love, it not only moves the sun, whether Christian or human, but "all the other stars" as well.

RAIMON PANIKKAR has been a frequent contributor to Cross Currents since 1963. Orbis will publish his Gifford Lectures, The Rhythm of Being, late in 2000. This essay is a revised version of an article that first appeared in Jeevadadhara, 1991.


(1.) See my essay, "The Dream of an Indian Ecclesiology," in Searching for an Indian Ecclesiology (Bangalore: [A.T.C.] Indian Theological Association, ed. 1984), 24-54.

(2.) See my chapter, "Autoconciencia cristiana y religiones," in Fe cristiana y sociedad moderna 26 (Madrid [S.M.]), 197-267.

(3.) See my essay, "The Meaning of Christ's Name in the Universal Economy of Salvation," in Evangelization, Dialogue, and Development Rome 5 (1972): 125- 218.

(4.) See Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco, 1988).

(5.) See my article "On Catholic Identity," in Warren Lecture Series in Catholic Studies 17 (University of Tulsa), 1991.

(6.) K. Rahner and J. Ratzinger, Episkopat und Primat (Freiburg: Herder, 1961), 47.

(7.) See A. Salas, "La comunidad primitiva: Proceso y oferta de liberaci[acute{o}]n," Biblia y fe 51 (1991): 359-92.
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Publication:Cross Currents
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Date:Mar 22, 2000
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