By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The "Neo" Phenomenon and Pentecost

The Greek prefix "neo" means "new." You see its use all of the time as in the terms "neo-conservative" or "neo-liberal." Some chronologically young traditionalists in the Church and their older mentors view themselves as the wave of the future: they are, so to speak, the neo-traditionalists. Yet, I have to disagree, theologically, historically, and biblically, on viewing them as the future of the Church. I do not see them as the true future but rather as a revival of a very recent past. Yes, in the objective scale of biblical salvation history, even the Tridentine era of the 1500's is the very, very recent past. It is only yesterday.

It is easy, when young, to find many, many defects in the status quo. It is normal and healthy, but it can also distort reality because it can often be merely a reflection of very personal frustrations rather than a realistic depiction of the world. What can also cause that distortion in an often overheated catalogue of imagined defects drawn up by some of the chronologically young is a lack of historical perspective (I am careful to use the word "chronologically" because I find that the spirit of this group is really not all that authentically youthful, as will be explained below).

The privileged historical pivot for examining the Church is not the very, very historically recent Tridentine past but rather Pentecost. There the Church was first manifested in very public power to representatives of the entire known world of the Jewish Diaspora. There was a manifestation of boldness, truth, praise, and wonders that would turn the great Roman Empire upside down. The speaking in tongues was not so much about overcoming language barriers (the common koine Greek language of the Mediterranean world had, providentially, already overcome those barriers for many, as seen in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and in the travels and writings of Paul) but was rather a sign of wonder to demonstrate that what the Old Testament had foreseen was finally hear: as the prophet Joel quoted by Peter in the first Christian Pentecost sermon said, now Adonai was implementing his promise to pour out his Spirit on all flesh.

That privileged moment of Pentecostal power will always be the future of the Church. When some choose to substitute another historical moment for Pentecost, they are really choosing against the perpetual future of the Church and substituting instead an arbitrary point in the past. Pentecost has the privileged character of the pivotal past event that is inherently, always, and perennially the future of the Church. Not even the Tridentine moment of the 1500's can come even close to substituting for that.

The "neo" phenomenon always tries to revive what is really only past and not perpetually future. The hour of Pentecost does not need the prefix "neo" because Pentecost, although a real past event in history, is, at the same time, intrinsically and perpetually new for all ages. Pentecost is the biblically and theologically privileged historical point from which to evaluate the state and condition of the Church in all centuries. Anything else ends up as an arbitrary historical revival that will age just as the chronologically young of today are already aging before our eyes.