Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Collecting Manna: Andrew Louth

Andrew Louth is a Russian Orthodox priest and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Durham (his full bio can be found here). I've been reading his beautiful book, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, reprinted 1999), in which he argues against the dissociation of modern theology from aesthetic sensibility in favor of their reunion in a way of theology that "should hinder and resist the natural craving of the human spirit for a clear, transparent and definite system" - what Wittgenstein bids us to when challenges us to leave aside the quest for "crystalline purity" of understanding in favor of a return to the "rough ground" - from which the following passages are taken:

At the same time, theologia for the Fathers is broader than our term, for it means not just the doctrine of the Trinity, but contemplation of the Trinity. Theologia, for Evagrius, a friend and disciple of the Cappadocians, is precisely contemplation, theoria of God, as opposed to contemplation of the cosmos. A theologian for him is one who has attained this state of pure prayer: "if you are a theologian, you pray truly, and if you pray truly, you are a theologian." There is here no division between theology and spirituality, no dissociation between the mind which knows God and the heart which loves Him. It is not just that theology and spirituality, though different, are held together; rather theologia is the apprehension of God by a man restored to the image and likeness of God...St. Basil's Liturgy is prayer, his book On the Holy Spirit is theology, though the latter is ot without passages of prayerful ecstasy, and in the former the mind is concerned to express something with exactness and clarity...

But whatever the case with the Fathers, for us there is an almost unconscious division between theology and spirituality; even if we feel they belong together, we have to relate them to each other, and not all theologians want to relate them too closely. The commitment that prayer implies seems to some to compromise the 'objectivity' of theology as rational study. The centre does not hold: the object of theology retreats and is displaced. Theologians become more concerned with one another, and less with the God who is the traditional object of their study. Kierkegaard's impression of the state of theology remains appropriate: 'to me the theological world is like the road along the coast on a Sunday afternoon during the races -they storm past one another, shouting and yelling, and when at last they arrive, covered with dust and out of breath - they look at each other and go home...'

...Theology is not simply a matter of learning, though we risk losing much of the wealth of theological tradition if we despise learning: rather, theology is the apprehension of the believing mind combined with the right state of the heart, to use Newman's terms. It is tested and manifest in a life that lives close to the mystery of God in Christ, that preserves for all men a testimony to that mystery which is the object of our faith, and, so far as it is discerned, awakens in the heart a sense of wondering awe which is the light in which we see light. (Louth p3-4, 147)

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