Spe Salvi 5: Myth and Superstition Give No Solace

We continue our lead-up to the Jubilee of Hope scheduled for 2025. We might need a good dollop of that particular virtue to get us there in one piece. Let’s continue with Pope Benedict XVI as we examine New Testament thoughts on this. Early Christianity was not a religion with a broad base of wealthy or even middle-class persons. Poor people were open to hope–would you believe it?

5. We must add a further point of view. The First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18-31) tells us that many of the early Christians belonged to the lower social strata, and precisely for this reason were open to the experience of new hope, as we saw in the example of Bakhita.

Impoverishment of outlook wasn’t confined to the economically disadvantaged; pagan religion had its own skeptics and dissatisfied membership:

Yet from the beginning there were also conversions in the aristocratic and cultured circles, since they too were living “without hope and without God in the world.” Myth had lost its credibility; the Roman State religion had become fossilized into simple ceremony which was scrupulously carried out, but by then it was merely “political religion.” Philosophical rationalism had confined the gods within the realm of unreality. The Divine was seen in various ways in cosmic forces, but a God to whom one could pray did not exist. Paul illustrates the essential problem of the religion of that time quite accurately when he contrasts life “according to Christ” with life under the dominion of the “elemental spirits of the universe” (Colossians 2:8).

It’s a curious thing: modern science and technology give understanding and some means of protection against the disasters of the natural world. Not even modern pagans see humankind at the mercy of weather, famine, and such. At worst, we are the victims of our own faulty care of the environment.

A comment on astrology:

In this regard a text by Saint Gregory Nazianzen is enlightening. He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ [Cf. Dogmatic Poems,V, 53-64: PG 37, 428-429]. This scene, in fact, overturns the worldview of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today.

Perhaps the curiosity about astrology has never really waned. It strikes me as an entertainment or curiosity. Not religion as such.

It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.

This is in harmony with the approach of people of science and faith. We know that God loves us and cares for us. We also know that the challenges of life do not define us as beings who cower in the face of danger or natural disaster. The impulse of the believer–of any person of good will–is to render assistance. In doing this, the Christian demonstrates practically our calling to imitate Christ and his own proclamation of why he came (Cf. Luke 4:16ff)

In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love [Cf. Catechism 1817-1821].

Spe Salvi is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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