properly locating impasses in theological stances

A suggestion for properly locating impasses in theological stances, e.g. trinitological disputes:

It makes sense to me to associate Lonergan’s secular conversions

  • 1) intellectual,
  • 2) social,
  • 3) affective &
  • 4) moral –

w/his imperatives & functional specialties, respectively,

  • 1) experiential awareness & research,
  • 2) intelligent understanding & interpretation,
  • 3) reasonable judging – deciding & history and
  • 4) responsible acting & dialectics.

This anthropological account thus cycles thru

  • 1) descriptive
  • 2) interpretive
  • 3) evaluative &
  • 4) normative

value-pursuits to realize human authenticity.

Religious conversion would then proceed in a reverse succession thru the normative, evaluative, interpretive & descriptive functional specialties to realize a sustained authenticity via self-transcendence (being in love):

  • 1) normative – foundations (exegetical, liturgical, historical & philosophical)
  • 2) evaluative – doctrines (creedal)
  • 3) interpretive – systematics (theopoetic & metaphysical idioms)
  • 4) descriptive -communications (pastoral, homiletics, missiology).

I set this forth to suggest that, for example, scholarly trinitological impasses can thus be variously located in differences regarding:

  • 1) anthropology
  • 2) foundations
  • 3) doctrines
  • 4) systematics and/or
  • 5) communications.

This is to suggest that if two theologians disagree regarding a more fundamental level, e.g. anthropological or exegetical, then, it will derivatively produce doctrinal disputes.

And it makes little sense to engage in systematic polemics, e.g. trinitarian syllogistics, with those whose who disagree with us at a more fundamental level, e.g. doctrinally or foundationally, much less anthropologically.

Some impasses between classical & analytical approaches, in fact, result from conclusions embedded – not only in one’s axioms, premises or logic, but – in the very definitions of one’s terms (e.g. philosophically: what is God? or anthropologically, what’s a person?).

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!

Simone Weil – patron saint of the religious Nones?

A wise nephew once told me that families are often like a fire. At the proper distance, we can warm ourselves, while, being too close can get us burned.

Simone Weil could not bring herself to approach the hearth of the institutional church — not only for the fear of getting burned, herself, but — out of a genuine fear of others, whom the church excluded, getting burned even more. She chose to remain outside, beyond the institutional margins, travelling as a pilgrim in a noninstitutional vehicle, an unmarked ecclesiological car of the Mystical Body.

For its part, the institutional vehicle was too often (not to say either exclusively or always) being steered (both hierarchically & by many infantilized laity) by those whom I would call People of the Lie, those whom Scott Peck generically referred to whenever he encountered persons caught up in efforts to preserve sick identity structures, whether of themselves or of their institutions.

It wasn’t the mysteries entrusted to the Church but the institutional evils encrusted on it that Simone rejected.

Noninstitutional vehicles are manifold & multiform. Sometimes, they’re the only viable means of traveling. Returning to the first part of this mixed metaphor, they’re the only form of community by which some can warm themselves without getting burned or possibly burning another.

Every time that a man has, with a pure heart, called upon Osiris, Dionysus, Buddha, the Tao, etc., the Son of God has answered him by sending the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit has acted upon his soul, not by inciting him to abandon his religious tradition, but by bestowing upon him light — and in the best of cases the fullness of light — in the heart of that same religious tradition. … It is, therefore, useless to send out missions to prevail upon the peoples of Asia, Africa or Oceania to enter the Church. (Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 1951)

I am heartened by some recent papal admonitions against proselytizing.

The phrase “with a pure heart, called upon,” to me speaks of – not just an intentionality, but – a profoundly relational intentionality. In reading and encounter, I have come across this type of devotional dimension in all of the world’s great traditions, as well as both indigenous and even nontheist religions.

Intertwined with (yet largely abstractable from) these devotional intentionalities, which are creedal or propositional in the way that they point toward specific “targets” of intentionality, e.g. cosmos, others, God or even self, are all manner of practices, disciplines, rituals, asceticisms and exercises, which, without being essentially propositional, foster our growth in human authenticity (a dispositional reality wherein our intellectual, affective, moral, social & relational dimensions take on postures of humility).

Humility presents in other domains beyond the intellectual, including affective, moral, social, political and relational. I elaborate on that elsewhere on this site, where I distinguish between the dispositional trajectories of Lonergan’s conversions and the developmental trajectories of the human growth theories of Piaget, Erickson, Kohlberg, Fowler and so on.

In my view, our Spirit-inspired traditions all share the same soteriological trajectory, that growth in authenticity that Bernard Lonergan called secular conversions, which I like to refer to as the love of wisdom. That’s what ortho-doxy or true glory means to me.

That’s why we can appropriate certain practices from other traditions and integrate them into our own, eg. Christian Zen.

Our traditions may otherwise diverge to various extents, taking distinct sophiological trajectories, growing us as “beings in love” with specific “targets” and dimensions of intentionality, e.g. cosmos, others, God or even self. That’s what poly-doxy means to me, many-gloried, and even nonbelievers can participate.

Folks like Maslow, Viktor Frankl and Lonergan all, each in their own way and time, eventually came to recognize that authenticity, in order to be sustainable, required self-transcendence, which I like to refer to as the wisdom of love.

I don’t deny how our getting our creedal propositions right can help us journey more swiftly and with less hindrance, enjoying a spiritual superabundance. So, I’m not suggesting some insidious indifferentism. But I do believe that these soteriological and sophiological trajectories, as I have come to understand them, can be realized ubiquitously, yielding human value-realizations in abundance, across traditions. Some folks have even co-inhabited traditions, although that’s rare because, anthropologically, religions’ cultural embeddedness present major challenges to converts, often requiring deep participatory immersions for both creedal inculturations as well as moral & sociological enculturations.

Simone, I believe, was in touch with such a profound pneumatological (Spirit-inspired) optimism and inclusivism as I have tried to describe. That may be why she saw no need to proselytize as evangelizing, itself, was sufficient, and why she also felt safe abiding beyond the margins, journeying in a noninstitutional vehicle.