For the third part of this discussion, I thought it would be interesting to turn to an Eastern Orthodox theologian. This will close out our look at more mystically minded theologians. In doing so I will look at Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (and because I wanted to remind Mark that he didn’t buy it for £3 when he had the chance!).
From the very beginning of the volume, Lossky claims that “all theology is mystical, inasmuch as it shows forth the divine mystery: the data of revelation” (7). He admits that there is a strand of mysticism that focuses solely on an “unutterable mystery” to be “lived rather than known.” On the contrary, Lossky suggests,
we must live the dogma expressing a revealed truth, which appears to us as an unfathomable mystery, in such a fashion that instead of assimilating the mystery to our mode of understanding, we should, on the contrary, look for a profound change, an inner transforming spirit, enabling us to experience it mystically. Far from being mutually opposed, theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone” (8-9).
Lossky states that, “Mysticism is accordingly treated in the present work as the perfecting and crown of all theology: as theology par excellence” (9). Continue reading
After looking briefly at Hans Urs Von Balthasar, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a Balthasar commentator, Mark McIntosh. I will mainly be referring to McIntosh’s prolegomna discussion in his book Mystical Theology. He starts by addressing some issues in defining spirituality, landing on an understanding which focuses on a discovery of the true self through an encounter with the divine and human other. This lays a platform for a discussion of spirituality and theology:
Perhaps one might think initially in terms of encounter with God as the common ground of spirituality and theology: spirituality being the impression that this encounter makes in the transforming life of people, and theology being the expression that this encounter calls forth as people attempt to understand and speak of the encounter” (6 – my emphasis).
McIntosh pushes away from seeing “experiential phenomena” as the defining features of the spiritual life, because when they are, “spirituality seems to lose its theological voice” (9). Continue reading
When Kyle and I began working together on a theology of the Christian life project, Nicholas Healy’s edition to Ashgate’s Great Theologians series shot to the top of my list: Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian Life (2003; many thanks to Ashgate for a review copy). I was not disappointed.
Healy’s Thomas Aquinas is a concise and highly accessible introduction to Thomas’ theology, surveying his historical context and development, reception history, and the major doctrines of the Christian faith in Thomas’ Summa Theologiae (henceforth ST). Though a good introduction, likely its most noteworthy contribution is the proposal for a particular kind of reading of ST that makes transparent the evangelical, pastoral and theocentric character of Thomas’ premodern theology. Healy wants to recover a reading of Thomas in which his theological method, his hermeneutics and metaphysics, his conception of the Christian doctrine and practice and pedagogy, as well as the material claims of his theology, are seen to be guided by the principles and norms that ‘reflect the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’ (p. 23).
The book unfolds in six chapters beginning with an historical overview of Thomas’ life and career followed by subsequent chapters addressing Thomas’ Dominicanism (specifically its Christocentric orientation and emphasize on obedience to Christ), doctrine of God, Christology, and conception of the Christian life in light of its ground in the Trinity and in the work of Jesus Christ.
The early material related to Thomas’ identity as a Dominican is actually quite significant for grasping Healy’s interpretative proposals. To be a Dominican was to view the Christian life as a ‘radical’ life, Continue reading
I will be posting next week a review of Nicholas Healy’s introduction to Thomas Aquinas’ theology, Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian life, but I wanted to whet your appetite with a quote before the end of the week.
One of the aims of Healy’s book is to recover a reading of Thomas in which his theological method, his hermeneutics and metaphysics, his conception of the Christian doctrine and practice and pedagogy, as well as the material claims of his theology, are seen to be guided by the principles and norms that ‘reflect the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’ (p. 23). Healy contends throughout that Thomas’ theology should not be read as philosophical, apologetic or systematic work, but instead as a work of scriptural exegesis intended – above all – to serve the preaching of the Gospel. And toward these ends, Thomas must then be read as a theologian first and foremost of the Christian life:
Thomas’s is an anti-systematic system, so to speak, in that its principles systematically undermine any system that does not push the reader back to Scripture and to the concreteness of a life dedicated to following Christ. His theology is best approached from his concern with the Christian life. It is not an attempt to develop an apologetics or a system that confronts and conquers all other systems. It is not concerned with mapping out the complete set of doctrines, though its covers all the doctrines that Thomas thought is necessary to discuss. It is least of all concnered to construct a perennial metaphysics to counter all other worldviews. Theology, as Thomas understands and practices it, attempts to clarify what has been revealed to divine wisdom through the incarnate Word and the operation of the Holy Spirit. Theological inquiry’s main function is to serve the preaching of the Gospel. And the preaching of the Gospel serves the Christian life, which is distinct from other ways of life, since it is an attempt to follow Jesus Christ obediently (p. 21).
What is the relationship between the believer’s union with Christ and his or her obedience to Christ’s teaching?
Our answer to that question is incredibly important not only for retaining the gracious character of the Gospel, but our language of salvation and Christian obedience says a great deal as well about our theology of the Christian life.
Toward sparking some discusson about the relationships we form between our theology of salvation and the Christian life, let’s consider the controversial (to some) reinterpretation of Martin Luther by the Finnish scholar Tuomo Mannermaa. As I have read, and reread, Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther, I can’t figure out how Mannermaa’s theology of union with Christ doesn’t completely obscure the role of the Spirit in the Christian life. Consider the following from Christ Present in Faith: Luther’s View of Justification:
The logic of [Luther's] thinking is as follows: In faith, human beings are really united with Christ. Christ, in turn, is both the forgiveness of sins and the effective producer of everything that is good in them. Therefore “sanctification” – is, in fact, only another name for the same phenomenon of which Luther speaks when discussing the communication of attributes, the happy exchange, and the union between the person of Christ and that of the believer. Christ is the true subject and agent of good works in the believer, as illustrated for example, by the following passage: Continue reading
Michael Buesking, “Adventus”, Oil on Linen (2005)
Reactions? Buesking’s own comments about this piece might get us started: “My intention is to suggest the presence of the Spirit and His gifts, and present them as something impossible to contain or hold. Implying a tenuous quality to God’s presence is not meant to be a bad reflection on God’s nature or to demean his promises and gifts. Instead, it has more to do with our interaction with Him and our own human tendency to claim ownership – presumptuously – of something given to us.”
How does this speak to our theology of the spiritual gifts? Our doctrine of the Spirit? Or, our understanding of God’s “haveability”, to use Bonhoeffer’s turn of phrase (Act and Being)?
How do hymns display and express the theology of a particular Christian community or tradition? And how does this sung theology shape and form our faith (belief, affection, and action)?
For the sake of the discussion, let’s focus on evangelical hymns. In American Evangelical Christianity, Notre Dame historian, Mark Noll, attempts to probe the message of evangelical Christianity through the medium of its hymns. In doing so, he identifies three distinct layers of hymnody that define the modern evangelical movement at its best. For our purposes we will consider just two: Christ-centered picture of redemption and social vision (the other is ecumenism). Even if you don’t identify with the evangelicalism Noll expounds, consider how the sung theology of your tradition shapes your beliefs – your credo.
The Scandal of the Cross Is the Scandal of My Forgiveness
“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused such pain? For me? Who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be That thou my God, shouldst die for me?” (Charles Wesley)
The first thing to notice about this hymn is its characteristically evangelical focus on the individual person’s salvation. It casts the scandal of the cross primarily in terms of how the love and forgiveness therein could be for “me.” Wesley wonders over the radicality of Christ’s death and asks: “For me?” Continue reading