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!

The Best Systematic Theologians Become Ascetics & Mystics!

The existential leaps entailed in our liturgical & devotional practices and dogmatic & doctrinal formulations can be normatively justified by foundational theologies – philosophical, historical & exegetical.

Most believers appropriate such norms w/a subconscious competence.

Theologians, as practical more so than speculative scientists, first, consciously appropriate & explicate those foundational & doctrinal disciplines, then craft systematic expositions that might best foster pastoral communications & complement pastoral practices.

At one level, such expositions, while yet vague & commonsensical and trafficking in contemporary idioms, can still be eminently efficacious in fostering ongoing conversion & in integrally applying a faith outlook to every sphere of human concern.

I say this because, at another level, systematic expositions properly aspire to go beyond our vague & idiomatic expressions, which rely more so on successful “references to” than on robust “descriptions of,” to more rigorously define reality’s entities & precisely specify their relations.

The more speculative a metaphysic, however, the more tentative will be its ontology, hence, the more modest one should be in urging its de-ontological implications.

Metaphysical idioms aid apologetics, deepen understandings & help us locate the theological tensions within dogmatic & doctrinal canons.

We can’t expect metaphysics to resolve any tensions, dialectically, but they can help us dissolve some, paradigmatically &, when unable, otherwise, can still open new horizons for us to exploit them, creatively.

Christianity remains in search of a metaphysic, as does any philosophy of science (due to manifold & multiform aporetic causal joints).

When theological opinions diverge, eg trinitarian, their impasses might be found at any number of methodological loci, but, among coreligionists, presumably not in foundational & dogmatic disciplines.

If impasses are located in such a choice as between substantive & relational ontologies, we can too often expect them to prove too much, theologically, especially since such idioms have done very little to adjudicate so many other aporiae, whether philosophically or commonsensically, eg quantum interpretations, philosophies of mind, in/determinist freedom, etc.

When systematics cum metaphysics do locate tensions we can exploit creatively, beyond apologetics & deepened understanding, what forms might such exploitations take?

It’s here that our systematics serve – not only the missiological & epistemic, but – the ascetical & mystical!

Good systematics foster intellectual, affective, moral, sociopolitical & religious conversions, instill humility & expand horizons on our journeys to authenticity. They integrate with our prayer, mortification & unitive ascents. They transform us from otherwise hopelessly & aimlessly wondering wanderers into hope-filled & purpose-filled worshipful wonderers!

The best systematic theologians become ascetics & mystics!