A division between the rational, communicable but superficial, and the intuitive, which moves us and determines our will, but which is incommunicable – a division between the objective and the subjective as Kierkegaard understood that distinction – resolved at the level of the saint, or more exactly at the level of the saintly life, resolved not in a concept, but in a life, or an act, or a succession of acts, acts which are lived not in a clarity they attain to, but through a darkness and confusion of ‘dim apprehension’. It seems to me that this draws together some of the themes we have been considering and points us to a more fundamental unity.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983). 135-136.

In the concluding chapter of this book, Father Louth summarises the movement of the various chapters, highlighting the theme of division and the search for an underlying unity. He then turns to the work of von Hügel who explored the contrast between reason, logic and abstraction, on the one hand, and instinct, intuition, feeling, and the concrete and contingent, on the other. While the former is necessary for expression, the latter moves us and determines the will although it is seemingly neither transferable and nor repeatable. The solution, for von Hügel, lies not in theory but rather in life, and more specifically in the life of the saint, for religion is not constituted by holding particular views, but rather by

holding this view and this life to proceed somehow from God Himself, so as to bind my innermost mind and conscience to unhesitating assent. Not simply that I think it, but that, in addition, I feel bound to think it, transforms thought about God into a religious act. (134-135)

In this process, the first cheery clarity must disappear to be followed by a dreary confusion and obtuseness of mind before a second clarity arises from the depths of the unconscious. The soul realises, gradually and passing through “dim apprehension”, that all that it does and is is somehow given to it, and that “inasmuch as it is permanent at all, it is grounded upon, environed, supported, penetrated and nourished by Him who is its origin and its end. (135)

Theology is thus a supremely practical wisdom, and is necessarily linked to a life of the virtues and a life of asceticism. While it is true that theologians work in “libraries not laboratories,” as Louth had argued in chapter three, this should not allow us to see it as something abstract. The monuments of the ancient faith that we find in our libraries were very often texts (such as sermons and letters) that were directly concerned with fostering the spiritual life. This connects also with Gadamer’s emphasis on interpretation as performance, for understanding takes place for him not simply in conceptual understanding but in application and it is this application that involves a process of undeceiving us from those of our prejudices that do not fit reality.

In the next post I will continue with Louth’s discussion of Newman.

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