Reconsidering Transcendence

Reconsidering Transcendence

On May 10th and 11th, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Malta successfully organized a very topical international theological conference. Its’ title says it all: Reconsidering Transcendence. 

The two-day conference programme centred on five plenary sessions. After the opening address by Pro-Rector Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino, the keynote lecture for the first day of this Conference was delivered by Prof. Yvonne Dohna Schlobitten. She is an associate Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University where she teaches Aesthetics, Philosophy and History of Christian Art in the Faculty of History and Cultural Heritage of the Church of the Institute of Spirituality. Her paper’s theme was Art and transcendence: educating one’s spiritual senses.

The first plenary session was chaired by Rev. Dr Paul Sciberras. It contained the following papers: (1) Humanity and transcendence by Rev. John A. Berry; (2) Rediscovering the treasures of Biblical Wisdom by Mariya Khoma; (3) The gift of God in the narrative form of the Fourth Gospel by Rev. Dr Martin Micallef OFM Cap; and (4) Rediscovering Paul’s Mystical Theology by Prof. Dr. Beate Kowalski. 

The second plenary session was chaired by Dr. Joseph Ciappara. It had the subsequent contributions: (1) Knowing the Unknown in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa by Prof. Wojciech Szczerba; (2) For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror (1 Cor 13:12): Aquinas on God’s presence in the world by Prof. Piotr Roszak and Dr. Tomasz Huzarek; (3) Divine presence and absence in Bonaventure’s Itinerarium mentis by Dr. Roberto Vinco; and (4) The works of love: Towards a grammar of transcendence by Rev. Dr. Mark Sultana.

The third plenary session was chaired by Rev. Dr. Kevin Schembri. It included the following papers: (1) Awating at the in-between void by Rev. Charlò Camilleri O. Carm; (2) Matrimonial love and transcendence by Prof. Dr Obeleniené Biruté; (3) Transcendence as antinomic friendship: Metamodern foreshadowings in Pavel Florenskij’s vision of the world by Rev. Glen Attard O. Carm; and Turīya: Climbing (L. scandere) beyond by means of Bhāṣā (Sk sacred speech).

The second day of the conference kicked off by another keynote lecture. After the introduction by Rev. Prof. Hector Scerri, my Capuchin confrere, Rev. Gianluigi Pasquale OFM Cap, from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, delivered a lecture entitled Christian humanism in technical society.  

The fourth plenary session, which was chaired by Dr. Pauline Dimech, had the ensuing inputs: Who is the people of God? The permanency of Israel and crisis Ecclesiology by Rev. Prof. Luc Forestier; (2) Bonhoeffer on transcendence: Experiencing Christ in this world by Dr. Joel Burnell; (3) Word, understanding, and dialogue: The role of a Christian teacher or Catechist by Dr. Zuzana Svobodová; and (4) Society, humanity and transcendence by Dorianne Buttiġieġ. 

Finally, the fifth plenary session was chaired by Rev. Dr. Stefan Attard. It incorporated these papers: (1) The preacher as θεοδίδακτος in Eastern Christian tradition and his role in contemporary proclamation of Gospel by Prof. Andrii Oliinyk; (2) The mystical dimension of catechesis by Rev. Dr. Carl Mario Sultana; (3) Silence as the pathway to transcendence. A pastoral approach by Sr. Dr. Gabriele Vasiliauskaite OSB; and (4) The logos and the Marian call to transcendence by Nikki Felice. Each of the plenary sessions was followed by a discussion and a break with the exception of the third and fifth plenary session wherein only a discussion ensued.

From this extensive programme you can easily concord with me that this conference was very well organized! And, for people like me, who have been away from the accademic field for quite some time now, due to their pastoral or work commitments, this conference rejuvenated in us that great sense of seeking, understanding, learning to unlearn and relearn that ever immanent and trancendent Transcendence! A trascendence, believe it or not, that not only is with us but is also, mysteriously, dwelling in our innermost being!

Among the abundant good fruit that has been surely ripened from this fruitful conference, I want to underline some points which, for me, are meaningful. First, science and technology provide only a mere superficial solution to human fundamental questions. As Iulia Ţuţuiano says in her essay entitled Paul Evdokimov, an apostle of contemporary world:

“The benefits brought by science and technology may contribute toward the spiritual crisis for the contemporary person. The imperfect human being thrown into the world is like a child who runs toward its parent when there are obstacles that the child alone cannot overcome. In some cases, technology and science may provide only a momentary, superficial solution, which leaves the fundamental issues unresolved and offers the contemporary individual a hubris unequaled through time.”

Second, amid this prevalent cultural and existential spiritual crisis I, as an individual, have my role to play. How am I open to let God’s transcendent yet immanent love change me? On this point, Thomas Merton’s contribution is all the more valid. Personally speaking it opens my very eyes! He wrote: The ‘world’ is not just a physical space traversed by jet planes and full of people running in all directions. It is a complex of responsibilities and options made out of the loves, the hates, the fears, the joys, the hopes, the greed, the cruelty, the kindness, the faith, the trust, the suspicion of all.” Am I ready to choose the loves, the hopes, the kindness, the faith, the trust out of all the negatives there are around us?

Finally, and as this conference’s final observation suggests, if God alone can awaken and satisfy my transcendental thirst for him why not start my days with the powerful lyrics of this following popular song: “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas, I am strong, when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up, to more than I can be?”

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap