And such a division undermines Christian prayer too; for Christian prayer is the movement of the heart towards God, towards a God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Prayer is not simply the movement of the heart, but is the response of the heart to God’s love manifest in Jesus Christ. Cut off from theology, prayer loses its objectivity, its concern with reality. For Christian prayer cannot be confined, as perhaps other forms of prayer can, to some spiritual and mental activity – meditative or contemplative – which is of value in itself and needs no further justification. Prayer is engagement with the object of our faith, an object which is in some way apprehended or known; and in such cognitive engagement the mind is involved. Faith is, to use the traditional phrase, cum assensione cogitare, to think with assent. We do not just feel something in prayer, we know something.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford, Clarendon, 1983)  3

The division between “theology” and “spirituality” is a recurring theme for me, which is one of the reasons why I find this book important. “Theology” as an academic discipline that is cut off from worshipping life of the Church becomes a contradiction in terms. Much of the post-Tridentine Church’s response to modernity became simply a sort of mirror image of it, the replacing of one form of positivism with another. But I am also hesitant about “spirituality” as a response to post-modernity, for if this is cut off from the whole of the Church’s life, including its confession of faith and its doxological life, then it risks becoming just as much of a mirror image of contemporary culture. The contemporary emphasis on experience, feeling and the heart needs to be understood in its proper context. We should attempt to understand what such concepts have meant in the tradition, but we also need to appreciate them within the context of the whole. Instead of playing mind and heart, thinking and feeling, off against each other, we would do better to reach back to the point where their original unity remains apparent, seeking to mend the division rather than simply perpetuate it.

Advertisements