I recently started reading a book by Richard Rohr on how the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous are rooted in the gospel message of Jesus. An interesting and fascinating topic to say the least. One passage that struck me was a passage dealing with the shift in the attitude and actions of the church in the fourth century after Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity.
“By the fourth century Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, which left us needing to agree on its transcendent truth claims (for example, Jesus is God, God is Trinity, Mary is a virgin, etc.) instead of experiencing the very “practical steps” of human enlightenment, the central message of our own transformation into “the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:14), and bringing about a “new creation” on this earth (Galatians 6:15). It became theory over practice.
We henceforth concentrated on how to worship Jesus as one united empire instead of following Jesus in any practical ways (even though he never once said “worship me” but often said “follow me”). The emperors, not popes or bishops, convened the next few councils of the church, and their concerns were usually not the healing of the masses but a united empire; and surely not Jesus clear teaching on nonviolence, simplicity of lifestyle, and healing those on the edge, which would have derailed the urgent concerns of an empire, as we see to this day.
Our Christian preoccupation with metaphysics and the future became the avoiding of the “physics” itself and the present. Endless theorizing, and the taking of sides, opinions about which we could be right or wrong, trumped and toppled the universally available gift of the Divine Indwelling, the real “incarnation” which still has the power to change the world.
As Tertullian, sometimes called the first Western Theologian (ad 166-225), said, “Caro salutis cardo,” the flesh is the hinge on which salvation swings and the axis on which it hangs. When Christianity loses its material/physical/earthly interests, it has very little to say about how God actually loves the world into wholeness. In endless arguing about the Spirit, we too often avoided both body and soul. Now we suffer the consequences of a bodily addicted and too often soulless society, while still arguing the abstractions of theology and liturgy, and paying out an always available Holy Spirit to the very few who meet all the requirements.”
–Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps