Returning to an in-person Colloquium after the zooming of the pandemic, it seemed appropriate to look to the future by inviting speakers in the earlier stages of their career to look specifically at the depressing outlook for the future of our planet, and beyond. Hence our title ‘A New Look at the End Times’ and a line-up of participants who, if not under 35 as originally hoped, were at least all under 45.
‘End Times’ implies biblical apocalyptic, so to set the scene we invited Dr Julie McKinley of NBSI, whose Trinity College PhD was in this area, to set the biblical writings in context for us. After the discussion that ensued, TCD doctoral student Paudie Holly reflected on the eschatological thinking of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, which continues to inspire hope, even though, as the next speaker Revd Mark Gallagher pointed out, it is based on outdated scientific theory.
After further discussion and a lunch break, the plan had been to have DCU chaplain Eric Hughes and Dr Allison Campbell of Ulster University speak on young people’s issues in this area; but as Eric had to drop out, Allison was joined by her husband Andrew to address the subject. Their enlarged presentation is now to be transferred to a future issue of SEARCH, while Eric’s intended paper is printed here. Warm thanks to them all.
Given the importance of pastoral ministry to those distressed by the threats of climate change, broadening war in Europe, and unmanageable migration, two parish clergyman, Revd Chris MacBruithin and Revd Sean Hanily, were then invited to share their experience of parish ministry, offering hope in the face of fear or despair. After the ensuing discussion, our final panel session was led by three senior academics, theologians Prof Maureen Junker-Kenny and Prof Cathriona Russell of the TCD School of Religion, and bio-ethics specialist Revd Dr Keith Suckling, formerly of Edinburgh and Nottingham universities. Each of these contributed their reflections on the day.
Along with all these, my thanks are due to Revd Mark Gallagher, recently co-opted to our editorial committee, for all his help in organising this special day. Happy reading!
The Shore of Eternity: Considering the Apocalyptic
WHAT might a modern reader expect when opening an Apocalypse? Perhaps culturally familiar with Revelation or Daniel, or film titles such as Apocalypse Now or Armageddon, one might not actually know what to expect at all. It can evoke apathy, fanaticism or alarm - maybe all at once.
Science, faith and eschatology in Teilhard de Chardin
AS CATHOLICISM and the sciences inhabited the twentieth century together, a literalistic reading of the Bible became increasingly inadequate to explain our origins or, importantly, our ultimate destiny.
CURRENT discussions around end times, apocalypse, eschatology, or whatever words we use, are often most interested in today’s issues, including climate change, war in Europe, and Covid, along with other pandemics and major diseases. Basically we concern ourselves with the big events of today, and how they are changing the world of the immediate tomorrow.
Young people’s attitudes to the threat of the ‘End Times’
AS A CHAPLAIN in the DCU Interfaith Centre, the only Protestant of the four, I naturally come into contact with young people a lot of the time. At the age of 36, I’m no longer a young person myself, even if I still very much feel like I’m only eighteen. But thinking about young people and their concerns about the future today, I’d say, a lot of them would claim to have no idea what the future is going to be like, or maybe feel like there won’t be a future.
I BEGIN with hope, because eschatology is a ‘theology of hope’, not one of fear. In philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s thought, hope is a structure: a horizon rather than an object. It effects a teleological force, an impulse towards fulfilment. Compare a novel. The parts, many of which seem banal or meaningless, become significant especially in light of two little words: ‘the end’. The natural habitat of ‘hope’ is not philosophical discourse, but biblical theology; so Ricoeur appeals to Jürgen Moltmann, who advocates that we ‘hopefully’ reinterpret all theology in light of this eschatological fulfilment: no longer an embarrassing appendix but a full ‘theology of hope’.
I OPEN with this popular quote from an unknown author today as one who stands here having put his hope in the Lord. I am not an academic or a theologian. What I plan to share with you today is some of my experience as a young priest in parish ministry, relishing the words of Isaiah: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 -32.
THE PRESENTATIONS at the Colloquium largely concerned specific illustrations of the theme of end times, but in the discussions we frequently reminded ourselves that behind all this lies mystery. We are trying to apply our theology onto a background of not knowing. It is important that we keep this in mind as we assess different perspectives.
Practising Paradise in the meantime - between despair and hope
THE REVELATION of John has attracted readers particularly for its uncanny predictions of devastation and ruin, of sheer catastrophe. The alterity and strangeness of this imagery, as it shapes visions of the present and the future, is not easily domesticated. It is also popularised in being borrowed by ‘end-is-nigh-fi’.1 Science fiction, far from being escapist or irrelevant, takes us into realms of imagination where no one has gone before: estrangement through new technologies; the nature and limits of being human; and the possibilities in proposed worlds—sometimes simultaneously utopian and dystopian.
THE SEARCH TCD Colloquium, ‘A New Look at the End Times’ has drawn together biblical insights from the study of apocalyptic texts, diagnoses of contemporary attitudes towards the future especially among college students, scientific analyses and theological positions on divine and human agency in the face of impending climate disaster, pandemics and war.
THE CENTRAL matters of Christian liturgy are always ordinary things heightened, made communally symbolic, enabling some participation in God. Consider what happens to bread, wine, water, fire, stories, singing as they are made the matter of Christian assembly. And note that biblical words or imagery often play a role in this intensification.