Christianity & Paradox

Christians can be understandably enthusiastic about providing an apologetic for their faith when either questions are asked or challenges are posed to its central tenets. Sometimes, the same apologetic impulse could drive theological discussions within the Church. In either case, however, what is becoming increasingly apparent in the drive to protect the truths of Christianity is to equate truth with internal consistency. Assure internal logical consistency, many think, and one assures truth as well.

What many may miss, however, is the extent to which the drive for internal logical consistency springs forth from sources that are truly Christian. A telling clue can be gleaned from the often smug satisfaction from apologists when they declare the watertight logic of a Christian claim without many any reference to the Christian God. Such strategies risk reducing the sheer splendour of Divine revelation exclusively within the confines of human philosophy.

In After Writing, Catherine Pickstock reminded her readers that the drive for internal consistency is something that was not characteristic of the ancient church. Instead, Pickstock argues, the primacy given to internal consistency is something more akin to the Enlightenment. Truth in the ancient church, on the other hand, was grounded not so much in consistency as it was in its relation to the Triune God. To use Platonist terminology, the truth is more truthful, the more it participates in God, who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life".

If we were to draw from the peculiarly Christian sources, such as the Scripture, we find that such a God and from that the Christian tradition, Henri de Lubac reminded us, is steeped in paradox. God is three yet one, God transcends creation and yet is in creation. Jesus, the second person of this Triune God, is the Lamb who is the "Lion of Judah" (Rev 5:5) , who ascends his throne as an executed criminal, and who in the words of the Orthodox prayer, "descended into the Tombs and from death gave us life". The Church, as the extension of the second person of the Triune God, is similarly a paradox - both human and divine, both a "gift from above and a product of this earth".

This is not to say that logical consistency is thereby cast out. John Paul II reminds us that Reason and Faith must always correlate to one another. Indeed, if truth becomes more truthful the more it is grounded in a God who is paradox, and in the life of a Church which is a living paradox, then what is needed is for logical consistency to sit in tension with paradox. Indeed, St. Bonaventure's suggestions for a "coincidence of opposites"are a clear reminder for us that what de Lubac calls a "paradox proper to the Church" can actually become the grounds for a firmer cohesion than what even the drive for purely logical consistency can achieve.

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