Abba and Amen

Abba and Amen

I’ve been reading the book Myths of Religion by Andrew M. Greeley this week. It is a compendium of three of his books written in the Seventies, The Jesus Myth, The Sinai Myth and The Mary Myth.

I’m intrigued by Greeley’s definition of myth, one that diverges from Joseph Campbell’s insofar as Greeley sees myth as important in its content, rather than its structure. For Greeley, therefore, myths are not all basically the same regardless of culture, as Campbell contends. For Greeley myth is “not fairy tale or legend, not make-believe or fiction, but rather a story that points beyond itself and gives meaning, purpose and direction to life.”1 Greeley’s project is to investigate the Christian myth.

In The Jesus Myth Greeley (a Catholic priest, sociologist and author) makes perceptive and challenging assertions about the message of Christ, especially in regard to our increasing knowledge of his historical life. Unlike fundamentalists, Greeley is not threatened by Biblical History scholarship, rather he embraces it as a venue for deepening his faith. His steadfast assurance in his own faith cannot be shaken, and therefore he walks in the world without fear.

For Greeley it is not even particularly important to focus on whether or not Christ himself articulated his role as Messiah, but rather that we understand Christ’s original and difficult message—perhaps best summed up with two words: Abba and Amen.

The “Abba and Amen” concept originates in the writing of the German scholar, Joachim Jeremias.2 For Jeremias, Jesus’ difficult message was twofold. First, we are all God’s own beloved children, on intimate enough terms to address him as “daddy” (Abba). And, secondly, as Christ was God’s earthly incarnation, he preached on his own authority, and was thereby able to seal his words with “Amen.” Understand these, and all else will follow.

Greeley convincingly argues that much of Christianity has unfortunately fallen into the same snare that Christ’s culture of first-century Judaism had. Now, as then, believers are far more comfortable with defining and enforcing laws, litigation and rules/ethics for daily living rather than actually hearing Christ’s revolutionary call to hope, faith and love/charity in all thought and action. (In essence, I Corinthians 13:13; “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”) By demanding that people live these three, Christ ushers in the Kingdom of Heaven: not as a future state of being, but brought to fruition in the here and now.

Greeley believes that while an ethical (perhaps secular) life is laudable, if it denies any future beyond death, it fails to feed the soul’s universal, intrinsic need for hope in permanence. For Greeley the answer is Christianity. Christian faith proves the individual’s assurance of God’s presence in all facets of space and time. Christian hope is faith’s extension; it means that life is meaningful, joyful and ceaseless—an affirmation of divine omnipotence, symbolized by the Resurrection. Christian love is the earthly witness of God’s love; every act of love/charity is a recollection and extension of the “insanely generous” gift of divine love and forgiveness of transgressions.

The greatest of these is love because it is both God’s greatest gift and his greatest challenge to us. Christians are called to live all three every day and in every place, regardless of life’s whims or our neighbors’ reactions. Christians are to joyfully invite each and every one to the liberating celebration of living boundless love, what Christ termed the “Wedding Banquet.”

Hating the sin, but loving the sinner; finding the beam in our own eye; seeing the divine in the here and now; approaching the Kingdom as little children; these are difficult to follow, but in not following them, we fare even worse.
1. Greeley, Myths of Religion (NY: Warner Books, 1989), 1.
2. Jeremias, The Lord’s Prayer, trans. John Reumann, Facet Books Biblical Series—8 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964); Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965). Cited in Greeley, 71.

2 Responses to “Abba and Amen”
  1. G A says:


    Nice post. Actually, all of your items are quite interesting, but I especially like this one for reminding me to have another look at Greeley’s book, which deserves attention. Back when I worked in a library years ago I remember reading how much the Church hierarchy seemed to be annoyed with him (he’s started writing novels that seemed un-priestly, I guess). Beyond that, his being a Catholic priest AND a sociologist is not exactly a likely combination.

    Anyway, great article and great new forum.

    – GA

  2. percyflage says:

    Dear GA,
    Thanks for your extremely generous note. I’m tickled that folks are finding these posts and enjoying them—either by agreeing or even by disagreeing. It’s all fabulous.
    I agree that Greeley is rather unorthodox, and (perhaps therefore) incredibly interesting. Now, I’m about to launch into Teilhard de Chardin’s “Phenomenon of Man”; I absolutely can’t wait. The original Christian version of “the Singularity,” who knew? :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: