Why Principium?

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Christ Pantocrator, Hagia Sophia 12th c.

In principio erat verbum – In the beginning was the Word.  We are in great difficulty, no less than was Augustine, to explain what has here been quoted from the Gospel. But shall we then be silent for the cause? “Why then is it read, if we are to be silent regarding it? Or why is it heard, if it be not explained? And why is it explained, if it be not understood?” (Tractate on the Gospel of John). We seek to speak a word of truth on matters of public life. Not that the truth is our possession, for “to speak of the matter as it is, who is able?” But beholden to the truth, we intend to speak the truth as we are able. We, therefore, establish a journal named Principium, and set before ourselves the following goals:

First, that Principium be an international forum for Christian discussion on issues of public import. The challenges Christians confront around the world today are largely common (e.g., secularization, encroachment on religious liberty, indifference to the dignity of human life and the family), yet Christians themselves are often separated by nations, divided by differences of language rooted in the pride of Babel. Even so, as John Calvin has said, “the admirable goodness of God is rendered conspicuous, because the nations hold mutual communication among themselves, though in different languages.” Greater still, God endowed his apostles with the gift of tongues; “Whence it has come to pass, that they who before were miserably divided, have coalesced in the unity of faith” (Commentary on Genesis). In this spirit, Principium is to be bilingual, published in English and Hungarian, in service to the unity of faith.

Second, we establish Principium as a journal free and independent. “The Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none” (Luther, Treatise on Christian Liberty). Exercising our Christian freedom, we will not be bound by partial interests, whether those of political power or populist movements. Moreover, we believe that through the exercise of Christian freedom we serve the common good. As John Paul II reminded us in Centesimus annus, “The Christian upholds freedom and serves it, constantly offering to others the truth which he has known.” Together with John Paul II we affirm that “total recognition must be given to the rights of human conscience, which is bound only to truth, both natural and revealed;” and that, “the recognition of these rights represents the primary foundation of every authentically free political order.”

Third, we establish Principium as a journal both ecumenical and orthodox. Mindful that Christ desires his disciples to be one, so that through them the world might know the Father (Jn 17:23), we are committed to open and ecumenical dialogue. “A command is given us in Sacred Scripture to preserve the bond of unity and peace,” Athanasius once wrote; “it is agreeable therefore that we should write and signify to one another whatever is done by each of us individually; so that whether one member suffer or rejoice, we may suffer or rejoice with one another” (Deposition of Arius). Only together, in the unity of faith and with awareness of our common purpose, may Christians hope to meet successfully the challenge our present age poses to authentic forms of life. Since the unity we seek is in truth, we intend to impose no burden on the debate in these pages beyond agreement in necessary things (Acts 15:28). Thus, in the confidence of faith and with hope for the future, but never setting ourselves against the patience of God, we launch Principium.

— The editors

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The Idea of a Christian Political Party

by H. David Baer

In an essay written perhaps in the 1960’s, the German Lutheran theologian Helmut Thielicke considers the possibility of a Christian political party. While not ruling the idea completely, he clearly has some reservations. By its nature, a political party must compromise and make strategic decisions that are far removed from Christian teaching.  And many of the things a political party takes a position on have no clear cut Christian answer.

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) Forrás: Wikipedia

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) Source: Wikipedia

Thielicke concludes that Christian political action should focus on specific issues, issues on which there is a Christian position. One cannot say this or that political party is Christian, but one can say, for example, that this is the Christian position on abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and so on. There may be Christian positions on specific political questions, but a political party with a comprehensive Christian platform is not really possible.

There might, of course, be rare exceptions in especially extreme circumstances.  This was the argument made about Hitler in the German confessing church movement.  Karl Barth made the argument famously, claiming, essentially, that to oppose Hitler was a status confessionis (to use Lutheran terminology).

As far as the political situation in Hungary is concerned, one would be hard pressed to claim things have reached that point. The only political event in Hungary that crossed the line theologically was Prime minister Orbán’s speech about the “bird from Turul,” delivered in the town of Ópusztaszer. If this sort of Hungarian paganism were to become an integral part of Fidesz politics, or the politics of another political party or government in Hungary, then Christians would have a duty to oppose such political paganism.  But the “speech at Ópusztaszer” was one crazy speech, and it would be rash to generalize from it at this point.

David Baer writes more about the Lutheran perspective on politics in the first issue of Principium.

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The Meaning of Marriage

by György Heidl

They are going to be disappointed, those who are hoping that, as concerns the theology of marriage and questions of sexual ethics, Pope Francis is going to soften the “strict” teaching of the church on the purity and sanctity of marriage.

catacombe_di_san_gennaro_fresco_Theotecnus_Hilaritas_Nonnosa_VIcEspecially as concerns the recognition of same sex marriage, we ought not to expect even a slight concession. Many have pinned great hope on the oft quoted, deeply humane, but thoroughly distorted comment by Pope Francis, “who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith.” But these people overlook the pope’s first encyclical, where he emphatically affirms the clear teaching of the church. According to Francis, the union of man and woman in marriage “is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh, and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan” (Lumen fidei 52).

György Heidl writes more about the meaning of marriage in the first issue of Principium.

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Ethnicity as a Theological Concept

by H. David Baer

reformatus templom In Eastern Europe religious and national identity often overlap with one another. Many Christians in Eastern Europe affirm this overlapping as a way to reinforce and preserve national identities. One such Eastern European is László Tőkes, Bishop of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania. Bishop Tőkes professes an intrinsic link between his identity as a Christian and his identity as a Hungarian, and he does so in a way that is both thoughtful and provocative. This essay examines the thought of Bishop Tőkes and argues that his theological affirmation of Hungarian identity is theologically coherent and well-reasoned. Read the full article here!

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Coming Soon!

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Principium is an independent, international journal dedicated to cultivating informed Christian debate about public life in Hungary and Europe.  The first issue will be published in fall 2014.

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