In which I circumscribe the definition of “theology” so that I don’t break my self-imposed blogging regulations

There is of course the classic two-fold distinction between natural and revealed knowledge. This is often traditionally extended to knowledge of God – knowing God in two ways. Never mind that for now. I’m not interested. My interest is in “revelation” itself, and what a great many traditional theologians consider “theology” to be.

There is, as any Protestant worth her salt will never fail to remind an enquirer, a certain Catholic insistence on “articles of faith” which must be believed without hesitation by all the faithful. Catholicism becomes an oppressive monster according to the gospel of our Protestant proselytiser. She well knows that the propositional statements insisted upon are not in accord with the revealed knowledge derived from the Bible …. yada … yada … yada … and so the monster must be slain and a doctrinally correct set of propositional statements — you know a sola scriptura set of dogmatics — is produced to replace the monstrous ones. And of course, in “Protestantism” (I once rejected that term out of hand I’ll have you know) the writing of dogmatics, multi-volumed, ever-swelling dogmatics after dogmatics after dogmatics, well, this activity knows no bounds (or at least that used to be the case until people by and large ceased to care about these sorts of books and the market dried up, thankfully).

The point I’d simply like to make is this. Our Protestant lady friend has missed the whole point of the term “articles of faith”. They are, to quote a classic commentator “precisely what they are called, namely articles of faith and not in themselves articles of revelation. They are not ‘propositional truth-statements, dropped, as it were from heaven…’ (Sebastian Bullough, Roman Catholicism, p. 16). Revelation, this way understood, is God’s self-impartation, which includes also knowledge of God. It it “made to man through the apostles and prophets who wrote the Bible, and this prophetical revelation, being made through human sense, imagination, and mind and moreover containing truths which in themselves are beyond the power of human reason, may be expressed in symbols and images, which taken as they stand are often not patient of being fitted into precise theological terms” (p. 16). Revelation is mystery, the impartation of that mystery, incorporation into that mystery. This reality (if indeed it is such, I’m making no claims here, it’s not a theological blog) drives our lady mad (not just her to be fair, but everyone like her, whether Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, Emacs user, and so on, you know a certain way of being religious). For her carefully crafted theological terminology is the means by which she seeks to cope with and control herself and others, without sacrificing the one thing secretly precious to her in the shrine of her heart — self-determination. The fatal irony then comes about, she loses any hope of that coveted freedom, for she is now enslaved to her self-constructed language, a language spoken by her members to guard against the threat of the Other. Security in this sort of self-determination is enslavement. Revelation is liberating. But Revelation (assuming the other way) comes from an Other. Revelation prompts a response — a word which responds in faith to the word of God. The “articles of faith” are this word of response, they are a confession of faith. And the Church (presumably) is ever striving so speak them anew. For this is the activity of faith — it is faith in God and the Word of Revelation, not in the “articles of faith”.

If this is so then one must realise then that there is inevitably a sort of Communio vs. Concilium sort of tension that is, and will always be, or must be, at play here (let the reader understand). The activity of faith does not always begin ab initio with a language that is sui generis. (You see, I said that last bit in Latin precisely to make my point. Clever, huh?) The tension is the very evidence that the activity of faith is truly active, and therefore the faith is a living faith. But what if the tension becomes a fracture, a divorce? I don’t know. This is not a theological blog. But one manner in which this probably does happen is when the parties to the divorce proceeedings circles their wagons, build their bulwarks, their mighty fortresses, by means of their propositional statements and their way of proposing them and conceiving them. Self-referential fortresses, simulacra of fortresses, no fortresses of all (they are not, existentially, articles of faith) for the illusory treasures being guarded are in the end simply the propositional statements and the manner of proposing them. The siren song of self-determination and all that sort of thing. Well tentatio is uncomfortable. But some would say that this way of the cross leads to freedom and suggest that our lady has lost her way. I would never dare. This is not a theology blog.

Postscript:

Of course the Revelation does not change. That is the Great Axiom. If not then what does? Something must. Or at the very least develop, which is to say grow into its fullness, its telos. So long as our dear old lady wants to engage in her game of stalemate, then for her something else must change. Wave a sola scriptura banner about (a diversionary tactic), write a carton full of dogmatics, tailor Revelation to a dress size that fits her perfectly when she admires herself in the mirror. Of course, she will insist, nothing actually changes. Indeed, nothing can change. Nothing must change.

Nothing must change?

Nothing.

Really? Nothing?

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About J. Rhombohedral Hematite

Not a Theoblogger. Nota bene.
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7 Responses to In which I circumscribe the definition of “theology” so that I don’t break my self-imposed blogging regulations

  1. John H says:

    “Or at the very least develop, which is to say grow into its fullness, its telos.”

    Newman spells it “develope”. In case you want to go back and correct that.

  2. Spelling also develop[e]s. This I believe and teach.

    • John H says:

      Ah, but how to tell the difference between a genuine developemente of spelling and a corrupptione? At least without an infallible teaching authority…?

      • Usage. The transformative capability is essential when our speech encounters the Language, which has a certain Spirit about it that blows where it will. The Communio of l’Académie française does not arbitrarily of its own power legislate what constitutes the Lexicon. It bears witness to the conversation already existing in the Concilium de la Francophonie. Thus there is the inevitable continual Great Disputation between these communities. There is little value in being partisan but much in being party to the discussion. We can’t lose sight of the end-game which is that La Belle Langue might continue to be learned and spoken by all. Then again, perhaps I’m just obfuscating.

  3. There is need of a dictionary. On this everyone is agreed. Otherwise one might as well just speak German.

    • John H says:

      Well, quite. And the crucial point is that the Communio of l’Académie is itself part of the Concilium of la Francophonie, rather than the two being disjoint. Which suggests German speakers are mere onlookers on, rather than participants in, the process by which La Belle Langue emerges.

  4. Hailing (ancestrally) from Strasbourg I think things might be more nuanced though I acknowledge the concern pour la préservation de la syntaxe.

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