Roger Lenaers, the author writes

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“Agenda Latinoamericana” and “Tiempo Axial” theological book collection have recently brought forth a very timely book published by Abya-Yala en Quito Ecuador. This is the Spanish translation from the German edition of the book by Roger Lenaers S.J., of the original en Flemish, now with the title in Spanish “A Different Christianity is Possible – Faith in the language of the modern world” (243 pages, US$7.00). The book lucked out beautifully arriving almost at the same time as NASA scientists announced finding traces of water on the planet Mars with all the tremendous possibilities that this scientific assertion implies for our terrestrial human race. Ever since the first human being set foot on the moon in 1969, almost some 40 years ago, whether we like it or not, the modern world has arrived and is here to stay. The title of the English version of the book is significant and even more enticing: “Nebuchadnezzar's Dream, or the End of a Medieval Catholic Church. “ (Gorgias Press, New Jersey, USA)
Roger Lenaers, the author writes:
“ An epochal change has come about. Human beings have discovered the autonomy of the cosmos and with it their own autonomy. With this the doctrine of faith, built as it has been on the axiom of “heteronomy” (the axiom of two worlds) has lost its validity. What was not lost was the message of faith experience through which Israel had passed and which reflected it’s this-worldly historical experience in contact with the deepest levels of reality culminating in the experience of God in the greatest of his sons, Jesus of Nazareth and continuing to be lived in the experiences which his disciples underwent with him. The expression of these experiences need no longer be transmitted in the language of heteronomy. For those who live in the modern world this transmission can only be valid within a “theonomy” (the axiom of one world) language frame.

This is the fundamental base for the necessity and justification of this book which comes down to being an essay or attempt to formulate the very same historical message but in today’s language.”

The author, with more than 50 years of church service in his curriculum, writes with a tremendous sense of pastoral compassion. The Hippocratic medical oath with its first law “Don’t harm the patient” seems to be the rule of thumb for Lenaers as he relates to his believing readers. He avoids inviting today’s “Christian young people” to accompany him, since for them the church has become insignificant and of little importance. Lenaers rather directs his attention to those middle aged people, who with a background of solid faith which they love are nevertheless constantly questioning and searching, trying to square up their faith with their thinking and acting in today’s modern world.
This is not just “Oh, another book” of general Roman Catholic theology, but rather a radically different cosmological vision, offered without footnotes or bibliography of famous authors, nor does it carry the “Nihil Obstat” or “Imprimatur” (Latin for “Nothing against it” and “Ok for getting published”) of ecclesial or religious authorities. To this effect the author simply writes: (pg.12) “… an idea hasn’t more truth or plausibility simply because it has been expressed previously.”, and then asks: “Why should an author be forced to explain things that he has been reading and working through over such a long period of time? (Lenaers is writing now well over 80 years of age). Very often this working through has gone on in such an unconscious manner that not even the author himself remembers who gave him this idea or who planted the seed for a new way of understanding which seed later sprouted. That’s why this author prefers to recognize and thank here all those, -- living or dead, remembered or having drifted off into oblivion -- whose thoughts and sentiments this author has inherited and now interprets anew.”
We can walk down the road of the birth of modern scientific achievements, beginning with the German Johann Gutenberg who around 1450 invented printing from movable type, the Polish/Prussian astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who “turned the world up-side-down,” the German Johann Kepler, the Italian Galilei Galileo, the English Isaac Newton, and of course the inevitable Portuguese Christopher Columbus “whom the new world discovered”. This was the great 16 th century enlightenment which laid the corner stone for the Scientific Evolution upon which Lenaers builds his visionary structure of today. During thousands of years up to this precise point in our history, just some 500 years ago, cultures, teachings, customs, myths and legends, politics and religions of all sorts with all their paraphernalia, were all constructed upon what at that time, was the very but very solid axiom of two worlds, the heteronomy.

  • this world “down here below”, flat, broad, ample, the recognized center of all creation and the human habitat, firmly planted upon sturdy columns with the vaulted sky or firmament above housing the sun, the moon and the stars, with clouds sprinkling their rain or snow;

  • the other world “way up there”, the reflection of this world down here below, the dwelling place of the gods and goddesses who also reflected human customs, good or evil, but always enjoying multifaceted powers much beyond those of human beings, “supernatural powers.”

Everybody believed in this “heteronomy” two world set up. But simply everybody, including Alexander the Great, Polybius, Plotinus, Homer, Plutarch, Socrates. Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Tullius Cicero and his Marcus Junius Brutus, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Pontius Pilate as also the Jews Joseph and Mary and their son Jesus of Nazareth, the women and the men apostles, women and men saints including Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul and all the popes and bishops. Just everybody had their two feet solidly planted on this heteronomy world, including the women and men who inherited to us the Bible and the Koran, historians like Flavius Joseph, emperors like Constantine and Charlemagne, Chief Seattle and the indigenous nations to the north, Montezuma and the Aztecs, the Mayan nation, the Incas, the Guarani, the great translators of the Bible like Saint Jerome and Martin Luther, the Holy Fathers of the Christian Church and the editors and participants in the great Ecumenical Councils of Christianity beginning with Nice in 325 up to that of Trent in 1560, as they drew up dogmas and hunted heresies, condemning and excluding with great authority.

As Lenaers affirms clearly, today’s modern world is autonomous.

Science speaks to us of the cosmos where our earthly planet is just an almost infinitely small, ephemeral part.. Some 150 years ago Charles Darwin began speaking about an “evolution” occurring in this cosmos which apparently seems to get along quite well without overt support or interference from some other heteronymous world. Christians, convinced that God continues to exist, today reclaim their right to belong to a theonymous world where God does exist. Nevertheless the entire religious apparatus plus ecclesiastical language continues to speak about the presence of God in the ancient (prior to the year 1600) heteronymous mode, based on the presumption of the existence of another world, “heteronomy”.

The road down which Lenaers guides us leads through the theonymous world, focusing upon ancient dogmas under the theonymous lens and clothed in the language of our modern day. As we pointed out above, Roger leads us with an extraordinary pastoral compassion so as not to “break off a bent reed nor snuff out the wick of a flickering lamp.” (Matt. 12, 20)
For Lenaers (pg. 80) creation is the “self revelation” of God.
In the axiom of the heteronomy world, creation is seen as the painting of an artist or the statue of a sculptor, the masterly building of an architect. The umbilical cord is cut between the artist, the sculptor, the architect and the production so that they are separated, can be sold or even destroyed.
In the axiom of the theonymous world, creation is like the dance being executed by an artist, or the aria being sung by a tenor, or the solo being coaxed from the strings of a Stradivarius violin, or the delicate verbal patterns flowing from the mouth of a poet. Creative activity is self-revelation maintained in existence. Our cosmos is the limited “self-expression” of the inexhaustible being of God.
(pg. 103) “If there is anything that with every right can be called “the good news” (“Gospel”), it is that the original mystery and foundation of all being has been manifested in Jesus as God-with-us. And not as God-with-Israel as had been done previously. And also that this mystery is the driving energy directed towards the welfare and salvation of all humanity in its evolutionary development and not just to a chosen people. And that this mystery is made known in Jesus as love, and that this love is not just any kind of sentiment, but rather a creative action. And that those who follow Jesus will surely reach their salvation.”
Making use of an old German saying about his reflections, Lenaers tells us: “Who says A must also say B.” And so consistent with this logic, he leads the reader down the road of the message of faith in the theonymous idiom. Here we will just glance over several themes (from a total of 19) from the table of contents of his book:
3. Exit and abandonment of ancient ecclesial myths. The crisis of the Church as a consequence of the ancient axiom.
4. The Sacred Scriptures as source of faith. A book of testimonies, not of oracles.
5. The umbilical cord of our faith. The treasure of Tradition.
8. The corner stone of our doctrine of faith. Jesus Christ – man and God in one being?
10. An inverted pyramid: Mary, the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God.
11. Believe that Jesus arose from the dead? Or believe that he lives?
12, Whole wheat bread instead of chocolate candies. Is there life after death?
13. The world of signs. The sacraments as ritual observances.
18, To whom will we turn? The prayer of petition, intercession and listening.
19, A new formulation of an ancient creedal symbol.

I would like to tie up the review of this highly recommendable book on a very personal note. In my recent electronic correspondence with the author, Roger Lenaers, he confessed to me his deep sorrow as he recognized that in his native Flanders, where at one time the “Catholic Religion” flourished, today it is seen as insignificant by the majority of the new generation of youth. I had confided to him my own personal experience of 80+ years, that in my immediate family, one brother and four sisters, all of whom were brought up as strictly practicing Roman Catholics In the USA between the years 1920 and 1950, today of 37 grandchildren of our very Catholic parents at the most 4 still “practice” the Catholic Religion. I look upon this book of Lenaers as a “life saver” for many of us who still cherish with a deep love our Catholic faith and have the firm desire to hang on to it as the most precious gift we have received, to maintain it with love, respect and that rational vision that our modern world of today expects of us.

Justinian Liebl

Managua, Nicaragua

Sept. 2, 2008

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