Search/TCD Chaplaincy Colloquium Explores Themes Around the End Times and Christian Hope
By Dr Ray Refausse and the Revd Mark Gallagher
The Search–TCD Chaplaincy Colloquium 2023 was held in the TCD School of Religion on Saturday April 22. The theme was ‘A New Look at the End of Times’ and featured young Irish thinkers on the relevance of biblical apocalyptic today. It was generously sponsored by Ecclesiastical.
The colloquium was opened by Dr Julia McKinley from the National Bible Society of Ireland with a presentation on apocalyptic texts. She explained that Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks about the connection between hope, distress and memory. Biblical apocalyptic literature not only refracts these elements, but they also are part of the reason for its preservation. Engaging with the apocalyptic is something which should not be pushed to margins, but rather is a vital theological pursuit as it allows us to recover our sacred imagination. It also recalibrates our relationship to linear sequential time. John J Collins reminds us that the world which apocalyptic literature evokes in our imaginations is set ‘in deliberate counterpoint to the experiential world of the present’. It ultimately offers the many generations who have turned to it in times of crisis, a resolution that involves our sacred imaginations and faith. It reminds us that we are always living in an in–between time – the ending of one thing and the beginning of another is always imminent – but the apocalyptic, the ‘revealing’ or ‘unveiling’ can be a tool to discern the times we live in and see where we are against the echo of our sacred texts, she said.
The morning session concluded with Mr Paudie Holly, a PhD candidate at TCD, and Revd Mark Gallagher, Rector of Trory (Clogher) and a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, and formerly a research chemist, presenting opinions on the state of science and faith dialogue, and how it should continue with respect to end times issues.
Mr Holly suggested that the inadequacies of biblical literalism in both Catholicism and the sciences hindered our understanding of our origins and ultimate destiny throughout the twentieth century. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin however, if read as a theologian but hopelessly optimistic scientist, gives hope to a bleak picture, and tools which allow science and faith to once again dialogue in a world of hope rather than fear, not least through his hope filled Omega Point. The ultimate destiny of humanity is not fear ridden destruction, but becoming ever more Christlike. Mr Holly concluded that whether it is in the way we talk about our past, the way we bridge the gap between faith and the sciences, the way we talk about the future of the environment, and our place in it, Teilhard offers many relevant tools for dialogue to continue.
Mr Gallagher postulated that at present, discussions around end times are most interested in current issues including climate change, war in Europe, and Covid along with other pandemics and major diseases. End times discussion looks through the short–term lens at the big events of today, and how they are changing the world of the immediate tomorrow. A theological framework through the visual language of graphs allows for a new way of thinking. We need to reframe dialogue within a broader picture. Even if our assumptions heads in the right direction from a small data set, we will never predict the correct place in time where the eschaton will be realised. What we can do is we can live in the knowledge, love and hope of Christ.
After lunch Dr Allison Campbell from the University of Ulster and the Revd Dr Andrew Campbell, Rector of Skerry (Broughshane) in the Diocese of Connor discussed young people’s issues today.
Revd Chris Mac Bruithin, Rector of Castlerock (Derry) and Revd Sean Hanily, Rector of Rathmichael (Dublin) dealt with pastoral insights into hope and fear. Hope is defined as a teleological structure that helps us to integrate life experiences, including difficult ones, into a narrative, the story we tell about ourselves. This is illuminated by pastoral cases. These include cases of existential dread emanating from ‘heavy pastoring’, victims of trauma and end–of–life care.
The final session was a panel discussion led by TCD theologians Professor Maureen Junker Kenny and Professor Cathriona Russell and the Revd Keith Suckling, a former UK senior scientist and Anglican priest who has retired to Co Down. The panel reviewed and re–interrogated the themes of the day concluding, appropriately, with a discussion on Christian hope.