To help us regain a good understanding of what the "Good News" really means, we can turn to our Catholic brothers and sisters, who can enlighten us. That’s what I did, the other day, with my wife, right after having read the passage where Thomas gives his definition of the Good News. I told her that I had just made a discovery while reading, and that before sharing it with her, I wanted to ask her a question. "Tell me, I said, what is the Good News we are supposed to proclaim to the world?". My wife hates it when it feels like a quiz. She didn’t want to play any game. So, I told her: “No, I really want to know what the average Catholic would answer to that question, before sharing Thomas’ answer with you”. My goal was to see if there was a great discrepancy between the answer given by the greatest theologian of the Catholic Church and that of an "ordinary" lay faithful of the 21st century.
So she reluctantly answered with a quote from the Gospel according to John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3: 16). I thought to myself “that’s a pretty good answer”. But I also thought to myself that there were many distinct elements in that answer, and I was looking for one single element, knowing that Thomas’ answer, though very elaborated, could also be summed up in one precise idea. So, I asked my wife this other question: “Given that the quote you just gave is quite dense and elaborated, what would you point out as the key element in it, the precise part that expresses the central message of the Gospel?” She answered “so that everyone who believes in him might not perish”. In other words, she was pointing out to the salvific action of Christ.
Now that I am recounting this little conversation with my wife, I realize that she responded as Protestants usually do. Not because she was catechized by Protestants, but because this part of the Good News that says we are saved by the Cross touches her in a very special way in spiritual sensitivity. And that’s the good thing about the Good News: it is so rich that it speaks differently to different people, depending on where they are in their spiritual journey, what they are most in need of at a given time, and what is their basic spiritual profile and sensitivity. Luther, the founder of Protestantism, had himself a very clearly defined personality, and was therefore more concerned with certain types of spiritual problems and the answers to them, especially questions related to soteriology. Soteriology is that part of the theology that deals with the problem of sin and the response to that problem which is the saving death of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
So for Luther and for my wife, the Good News is, first and foremost , that we are saved thanks to Jesus; that we can exit the trap of sin and death thanks to Jesus; that there is a possibility of reversing the tide thanks to Jesus; that there is a turning point in mankind’s history where the chains of sin have been broken, thanks to Jesus' sacrifice. The whole Exodus narrative is based on that idea that God brings liberation. And at Pentecost, after having received the power to proclaim boldly the Good News, Peter also focuses on the idea that Christ is risen (see Acts 2:32), in other words that he has conquered sin and death for us. And what does strike us most often when we listen to personal testimonies of conversion if not the power with which God has freed people from all kinds of bondage?
What I realized though, thanks to my reading of saint Thomas Aquinas, is that “Luther’s answer” or “Peter’s proclamation” focus only on one of the great mysteries of our faith, namely redemption, leaving Incarnation, for instance, in the background. And this is probably why, having in mind what saint Thomas wrote about the Good News, I thought that this definition centered on the salvific action of Christ on the Cross was good, but somewhat unsatisfying. The truth is, my wife’s first answer was the best one could give to the question: “What is the Good News?”. Actually, I would go as far as to defend the idea that her answer is Thomas Aquinas’ answer, presented differently. I’ll explain why in my next post.