November 02, 2006

Words from a Little-Known Theologian

Quotes from Gravity and Grace: Reflections and Provocations
During the program, Martin Marty says that a little-known theologian, Joseph Sittler, has played an influential role in his life. Read some of the passages Marty recommends from his 1986 book Gravity and Grace: Reflections and Provocations.

St. Augustine, at the beginning of his Confessions, makes a great and beautiful statement: "Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Back of that statement lies a proposition which says that the human is created for transcendence. It is the Jewish and Christian belief that we are meant for a selfhood that is more than our own selves—that we are by nature created to envision more than we can accomplish, to long for that which is beyond our possibilities.

We are formed for God; we are formed to be in relation to that which was before we were, from which we proceed, and in which we will ultimately end. Faith is a longing. Humankind is creted to grasp more than we can grab, to probe for more than we can ever handle or manage.

This transcendental restlessness has two parts: First, I cannot unfold, in the totality of my possibility, to the level of that which I dream. Second, the one who placed the dream in me is the Creator. We are made in the image of God. We are made after the image and the likeness of the ultimate thing itself. Our whole life is an effort to approach, to appreciate, to some degree to participate in, the absoluteness of God himself. But we can never do it; that's why our whole life is a restlessness.

This restlessness may make us want to throw in the towel—or to pull up our socks. You can play it either way. You can either be creatively restless, as before the unknowable, or you can simply collapse into futility. One of the goals of the Christian message is to join together the people of the way, the way of an eternally given restlessness, and to win from that restlessness the participation in God, which is all that our mortality can deliver.

Interestingly, no writer of antiquity whom I know anything about ever said, "There is neither male nor female" Gal 3:28. Aristotle didn't say it; Socrates didn't say it; Plato didn't say it; Solon, the Greek legal authority didn't say it. Nobody in the antique world until St. Paul ever expressed such a concept of an absolute erasure of sexual differences.

We humans are made for each other. The meaning of the Adam and Eve story, in particular the introduction of the figure of Eve, is not simply to say that it takes two to tango. But the Eve story communicates to all of us the meaning of the German proverb, Ein Mensch ist kein Mensch. A solitary person is no person; personhood is relation and presupposes another for its actualization God made a helpmate for Adam. Helpmate doesn't mean a sublieutenant; it simply means that which is necessary for wholeness. On this point, Scripture is very clear—and unique—in its perspective.

What is the difference between power and authority? Many exercises of power have no authority. And there are exercises of authority that do their work without power. Richard Nixon had the power of the presidency—up to the moment he resigned. But after the disclosures of his role in Watergate he had no authority.

On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln never used, except in a few instances, the full power of the presidency; but had authority. He didn't have to use sheer power. Pius XII, the pope who preceded John XXIII, hadn't used the full power of the papacy. John XXIII never used the full outer power of the papacy, but he had enormous authority.

What is the difference? Authority is a force continuous with the whole nature and performance of the person or thing possessing it. My grandmother had authority; my grandfather had power. I remember what may grandmother said, and I wanted to do it. I have no remembrance of anything my grandfather said, except that I had to do it.

Scripture has both authority and power. It has great strength, but, most important, we want to do what it commands. That is its authority.

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is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He's authored many books, including Pilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.