Theology Isn't a Head Trip  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Macrina Walker's excellent site A Vow of Conversation (blogrolled here under "Favorite Links" in the sidebar) partially transcribes a lecture by Notre Dame University professor David Fagerberg in which he rather forcefully differentiates between Western theology and that of the Eastern Churches (click here for the audio version). Fagerberg refers to Fr Alexander Schmemann, a prominent 20th-century Orthodox theologian. The words in bold type were stressed by me.


The West tends to think of theology as a mental activity. Probably this is because the people to whom the West gives the name theologian live in the academy...The only reason for calling these people theologians is because of what they think about. Worship is taken to be either an expression of belief, or an instrument for the creation of belief. And only if that believing requires a tune-up clarification does theology enter the picture. Liturgy is a place to stage the theological content we have deduced and believe. But theology's origin is not in liturgy, it is in texts and its output is more texts for the next generation of theologians to critique and surpass...

[Quoting Schmemann]: "I am convinced that if people would really hear Holy Week, Pascha, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the Dormition, there would be no need for theology. All of theology is here. All that is needed for one's spirit, heart, mind and soul. How could people spend centuries discussing justification and redemption? It's all in these services. Not only is it revealed, it simply flows in one's heart and mind."

I think it would be wrong to use this as a brush to paint Schmemann or Orthodoxy as anti-intellectual. Instead, there are two things going on here. First, Schmemann is identifying theology's home, its native habitat. Theology is more a vision than a cognition. Schmemann is not opposed to theological discussion; he is opposed to letting theological discussion ever break free from a vision of the Trinity in action.

The second thing going on in this quotation is the connection of theology with theosis. The beginning of theology is not the card catalogue, but doing battle with the passions. And the end of theology is not becoming a professor, but becoming a saint.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at Tuesday, July 06, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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