Creation and Rebirth
(New Year’s Greeting, 1 January 2020)
We are very pleased to welcome all of you, on the first day of the 2020s, to this event comprising part of the Hungarian State Opera’s Christian Spirit Season.
Please allow me, as a Roman Catholic theologian, to share a few thoughts with you concerning the questions of creation, nature, Christian culture and rebirth.
First of all, God creates out of nothing. God does not create from a previous age of the world or from God’s own self. God creates out of nothing.
The verb “created” that appears in the first sentence of the Bible indicates this perfectly: in Hebrew, this word can only be used with respect to God.
God not only creates something out of nothing; God also thereby simultaneously creates the existence of things.
God therefore does not merely “exist”, as one thing among others, but is instead Existence itself, as Saint Thomas Aquinas points out.
The Good Lord (as this appellation itself indicates) is by no means indifferent towards the created world, but is instead intertwined with it, having created all things and sustained them with Love, which is God’s very essence.
God therefore does not observe the world from outside, but rather enters into it and resonates with it, constantly saving what can be saved through Divine Providence.
For our world, being joined to God and connected to God is very good news, and is indeed news of great joy for those who have ears to hear it.
Natural theology (one of the branches of Christian theology) teaches that God can be known – from the existence and essence of the created world and humankind – by means of the natural human intellect, by observing that which God has created.
Consider the 60 wingbeats per second of the hummingbird, marvel at the ultrasound clicks of a dolphin communicating with its fellows, or regard the dignity a cat commands as it crosses a room: all living beings sing a concert of God.
The universe and the world of minerals, plants and animals into which humankind was the last creation to be placed are in and of themselves a demonstration, a revelation (at least an initial one) of the gifts with which the Good Lord has time and again surrounded us.
In this pivotal era of human history, the 21st century, this emphasis of natural theology not only fills us with amazement, it also calls forth in us a sense of responsibility, as it is readily apparent that creation not only surrounds us and envelops us, it also needs our protection.
We humans do not create out of nothing but rather out of culture. The word “culture” comes from “cultivation”: first of all the cultivation of the earth, and then the cultivation of the intellect, the mind, the heart and the soul.
At the core of each of the various cultures and civilisations found on earth there is always a religion. The tradition of our culture (like at least three of the world’s eight current civilisations) belongs to the monotheistic Judeo-Christian family of religions – which perhaps now requires increased care on our part.
We are also returning to the core roots of our civilisation now, as we celebrate the relationship between Christianity and musical culture in this inauguration of the second half of the Opera’s Christian Spirit Season.
Of all the branches of the arts, music – as if through its own immateriality – is the one that most directly indicates the spiritual origin of the created world; or in other words, of the sheer will of God being the only reason why anything at all exists anywhere, instead of nothing.
The essence of any religion – including Christianity – is not the sum total of its doctrines, but is first and foremost the embracement of God, through which one re-establishes one’s relationship with the Divine (the etymology of the word “religion” originally means exactly that: “re-binding”.
Humankind was created in the image of God. There are those who find it difficult to discover the image of God in others, in other people, in their fellow human beings. There are also those among us for whom it is difficult to recognise it in themselves, when they think about themselves or look in the mirror.
One of the things that being created in the image of God means is that God has invited us to be fellow creators: God prompts us to create all sorts of material, spiritual and intellectual works, including the work in progress of our own lives.
Religion is proof that – in creation, in nature, in culture and in the spirit – humankind has recognised God and has recognised its own image in God. And in this recognition, we are reborn.
Because for us religious people, life is not only rooted in our enormous tradition. It also flourishes, bearing forth the fruits and flowers of the revelation of the work of creation so that all of us, in our daily dialogue with God, can be reborn.
We all wish you the heartfelt universal blessing of joy in the experience of creation. May this next year be a blessed one for you and all of your loved ones!
Photo: Péter Rákossy