In Universalism’s Renaissance, Charges of Rationalism Stick Less Often than Many Imagine

In Universalism’s Renaissance, Charges of Rationalism Stick Less Often than Many Imagine

Per Lonergan’s functional specialties, we proceed from foundations (exegetical, liturgical & historical) & doctrines (creedal) through
systematics (theopoetic & metaphysical idioms) in the service of communications (pastoral, homiletics & missiology).

That’s to recognize that, theologically, we proceed from the normative & evaluative through the interpretive to the descriptive.

So, any charge of rationalism is basically suggesting that one has made one’s metaphysic the normative foundation of one’s theological conclusions, when it otherwise should merely be providing an interpretation of revelatory foundations & doctrines, mostly for translation purposes, communicatively.

This is to agree, then, that one’s universalism must derive, for example – not from Neo-platonic metaphysics, but – from Scripture, Eucharistic prayers, Patristics and the Creeds to yield, for example, a Christianized Neoplatonism. Otherwise, what one might embrace could be a Neo-platonized Christianity.

Now, charges of rationalism, caricaturizing both East & West, are nothing new, e.g. Orthodox mysticism vs Latin rationalism. What might be novel, though, would be any tu quoque-like reverse application of the so-called de Regnon paradigm (sounds like a Championship Wrestling maneuver off the old theo- turnbuckle?). For example, one might suggest that it’s some rationalism that must be grounding another’s universalism, a priori rejecting the possibility that there might otherwise be a competing, defensible interpretation of revelation at its heart.

It does seem to me that the universalism of the East is precisely derived from Scripture & Tradition as rooted in & expressed by its Biblical exegesis, prayers of the Church & teachings of the Fathers. There are even those, both East & West, who hold that such an indicative universalist posture should be recognized as a valid opinion & acceptable minority position, even if not dogmatized.

And many of them suggest that the West has over-dogmatized much of its eschatology (e.g. purgatory & hell), in general, and post-mortem anthropology, in particular. As a matter of fact, regarding the latter, too much of it represents the dogmatization of elements of a highly speculative angelology (e.g. irreversible choices). It would be tempting to call that a rationalism, i.e. proceeding from a metaphysic, but the alternate interpretation – that it’s an over-dogmatization – is both more charitable & likely more correct? In other words, it otherwise entails a more or less defensible interpretation of revelation that’s being explained metaphysically rather than a metaphysical stance that’s being turned into an anthropological conclusion, theologically.

One practical takeaway might be that we best resist facile caricatures of competing theological stances, as they are often tantamount to arrogantly insisting that another’s theologoumenon clearly must represent a rationalistic philosophical grounding because, after all, it couldn’t possibly have Scripture & Tradition at its heart, at least, not given my infallibilist interpretation!