October 21, 2010

What is Theology?

The other day the director of the STD program asked me to think about preparing a talk on my sense of "the ecclesial vocation of the theologian." I'll have to give it next semester in one the little lunch meetings of the doctoral students. Of course the project is a bit remote right now, but the questions have been in the back of my mind and I have found myself thinking of various texts that could form starting points, illustrations, and apologies.

So, as I have started to reflect a little on what I think theology is and what its purposes might be in my own life and in any service I might be able to give to the brothers or the Church, I was struck by the first reading for Mass today:

I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory
to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self,
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3: 14-19)

Theology starts with prayer born of a desire for God, a kneeling before the Father that seeks the "riches of his glory." Of course, our entering into the Mystery of God through prayer is a kind of optical illusion of the interior vision; it is not we who enter into God but God who enters into us. We experience the logic of the incarnation in reverse, or, better, in fulfillment. That the Word becomes flesh means that our humanity, the enfleshment of our spirits, now seeks to enter into the Word and to find its delight and fulfillment in deiformity.

By our surrender to this life of prayerful desire, our spirit is strengthened, and Christ comes to dwell in our hearts through faith, grounding us in love.

What is this love? It is first of all the love of God. But to love God is to love the love that God is, and his love is for every creature. Thus to love God is to begin to taste and touch the love that embraces every creature. It is to stand in wonder at a Love whose horizon is broader and whose height and depth extend beyond what we can scarcely imagine. Indeed, to even speak of horizons and extension is too coarse.

And yet, we touch this Love. We have glimpses of it in each other, in the beauty and order of creation, in the Providence of God in the paths of our lives, and in the universal human suspicion (contuition?) that at the Center of it all is a Goodness we are always touching but not quite apprehending.

In Christ is revealed God's own desire to join himself to our human upward desire to know this love. God's self-emptying into our humanity allows us to fulfill the great Easter slogan: sursum sunt quaerite! "Seek thing things that are above." Theology is to reason and to attempt to articulate what this means and how this human process may be exercised. It is our attempt, in our context and time, to know what all the "holy ones" knew. These are the saints and doctors who have gone before us and who help us to see, by the reflections and articulations that they made for their time, what it could mean for us to do the same for the people of ours.

Ultimately, like all missionary efforts, the purpose of theology is to make itself useless. It is a means by which the theologian helps us "to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge," that "we may be filled with the fullness of God." This fullness is what God has accomplished for us in the incarnation.Theology is a means to understanding how we may surrender to it more and more completely.


Ad Abolendam said...

You very likely already know this, but if you don't, there is a CDF document called "Donum Veritatis: On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian."


Brother Charles said...


Greg said...

Your post inspired thoughts...

Appropriate the discussion takes place over lunch. Informal. A glass of wine. Sunlight pouring through the uneven glass of a small cafe. Voices at times hushed and at times racing with joy. Periods of silence.

A slight embarrassment at speaking of a relationship that is at once ultimately private, but which one cannot help but profess.

Theology is about our relationship with God, is it not?

So we read others theology as an account of their relationship...

Some read warm and immediate; others cold and distant.

Some relationships appear to have occurred behind a veil of mystery; nonetheless, we are certain the meeting took place. We are certain of the love and divine presence in the relationship.

At other times, the narrator's relationship appears fleeting; he saw God pass quickly on the street and tried to capture His passing; it is more about relational geography and geometry than relationship.

And at other times it appears the narrator was looking down and caught a reflection in his wine glass as God passed; the account is one of mirages and insubstantial reflections.

So, you set the stage for the discussion (we all might imagine ourselves having) of our relationship.

And we read theology, those of us that do, because we want to know how to conduct that relationship, and how to appreciate it. And we want to know the lover, to know we are loved and that we love.

I will now be haunted by the image of sitting down in a small cafe and describing my relationship with God to friends... doing theology.