Ben Myers of Faith and Theology has taken to writing short stories. His rather funny but also tragic piece on The last theologian connected so directly with what Andrew Louth discusses in the first chapter of Discerning the Mystery, which he titles “Dissociation of Sensibility,” that I thought that I’d better get down to posting something from it. Louth addresses the division both in our culture and within us as individuals. This is a dissociation between thought and feeling, between mind and heart. Even the attempts of the Romantics to rehabilitate aesthetics end up relegating it to the fringes. And the same thing happens to religion…
But the case with theology is in some respects different: the crack and divisions go deeper and have been there longer, and it might even be argued that it is the collapse of the centre in theology that has led to the spreading of the cracks throughout our culture. In any case, it is certain that much of the division in theology is simply a reflection of the division in our culture: the specialization in theology, the remoteness of theology – often complained of – from the Church and the believing Christian, and indeed the remoteness of theologians from one another (the Old Testament specialist from the specialist in nineteenth-century theology, say) are all part of a phenomenon we see much of elsewhere and have come to regard as inevitable. One way in which the division in theology manifests itself is in the division between theology and spirituality, the division between thought about God and the movement of the heart towards God. It is a division of mind and heart, recalling Eliot’s ‘dissociation of sensibility’, and a division which is particularly damaging in theology, for it threatens in a fundamental way the whole fabric of theology in both its spiritual and intellectual aspects. Cut off from the movement of the heart towards God, theology finds itself in a void – for where is its object? Where is the God with whom it concerns itself? Even if God can be reached by reason, even if natural theology is possible, real theology could never be confined within such narrow limits. For theology (as opposed to religious studies) concerns itself with the Scriptures, with tradition, with the development of dogma, with the history of the Church, all of which is natural enough to the Christian, to one who believes. But belief, faith, is not a purely rational exercise; it involves, as an indispensable element, the response of the will or the heart to the One in whom we believe. Cut off from this, theology has to justify itself, not directly, but indirectly, as an indispensable part of historic European culture, for example. It is an uneasy justification, and inevitably pushes theology to the periphery, to be studied not for itself, but for some usefulness that can be claimed for it.
Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford, Clarendon, 1983) 2-3.
There is more to come, but the bell has just gone for prayers! I hope that it won’t be too long before I get back to this! (And I haven’t forgotten Zizioulas either, in case anyone is wondering, its just that other things have gotten in the way).