For theology is not simply a matter of learning, though we risk losing much of the wealth of the theological tradition if we despise learning: rather theology is the apprehension of the believing mind combined with a right state of heart, to use Newman’s terms. It is tested and manifested in a life that lives close to the mystery of God in Christ, that preserves for all men a testimony to that mystery which is the object of our faith, and, so far as it is discerned, awakens in the heart a sense of wondering awe which is the light in which we see light.
Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983). 147.
Father Louth proceeds to consider another attempt to transcend the division introduced by the Enlightenment by looking at Iris Murdoch’s attempt to escape Kant’s distinction between reason and the will. Instead of viewing moral activity as centring on moments of conscious moral choice, she sees moral activity as arising out of the sort of person one is, out of a system of energy that is not always clear cut and which is as much dependent on the moments between the choices as it is on the choices themselves. If this is so, then the moral challenge posed is: “are there any techniques for the purification and reorientation of an energy which is naturally selfish, in such a way that when moments of choice arrive we shall be sure of acting rightly?” (142)
Murdoch responds by pointing to contemplation and attention which enables the liberation of the soul from fantasy and releases in it the capacity to love. It is this accurate vision, rather than simply the exercise of the will, that occasions action. Louth comments (quoting Murdoch):
To speak in such terms is to revive ideas of a unity in man’s soul which transcends any division between reason and the will: ‘will and reason then are not entirely separate faculties in the moral agent. Will continually influences belief, for better or worse, and is ideally able to influence it through a sustained attention to reality.’ (142)
Louth then proceeds to consider how for Josef Pieper, as for Plato, our original relationship to being can only be realised through a sense of wonder, and Pieper underlines the role of wonder in philosophy. Wonder shakes us and unsettles us. However, since Descartes, this unsettling effect is all that remains.
Wonder becomes reduced to doubt, the doubt that threatens a man’s intellectual being: if for Socrates wonder was the beginning of philosophy, for Descartes and his followers it is doubt that is the beginning of philosophy. But, asks Pieper, ‘does the true sense of wonder really lie in uprooting the mind and plunging it into doubt? Doesn’t it really lie in making it possible and indeed necessary to strike yet deeper roots?’ (143)
While wonder deprives us of penultimate certainties, this is really a process by which the mind is stripped of illusions, for “the innermost meaning of wonder is fulfilled in a deepened sense of mystery.” (143, quoting Pieper) This love of wisdom (philo-sophia), which recognised that true wisdom is beyond the grasp of finite creatures, was the traditional task of philosophy but has been lost in modern philosophy which instead seeks a knowledge that it holds to be possible.
Thus Father Louth returns, again, to the notion of mystery. This is both essentially irreducible and, for Christians, centred on the mystery of God in Christ. He writes:
Christians want to speak of the centre of their faith as being the mystery of God in Christ. By that they mean that the problem of existence, the mystery of the ultimate, is truly a mystery: it cannot be unravelled. To say that the problem of existence is the mystery of the ultimate is to say that God exists. If the problem of existence can be solved, then there is no need to think of God or bring him into the picture. But to think of God is not to solve the problem of existence (as Heidegger thought it did when he maintained that theism was a way of evading the ultimate metaphysical question – Why is there anything and not rather nothing? – by giving a simple ‘answer’), but to hold us before the mystery of being. Christians do not simply believe in the mystery of God, but the mystery of God in Christ: they believe that in the life and death of a man called Jesus of Nazareth, God lived among us a human life. (144)
The mystery of God is thus the mystery of humanity.
Here, more than anywhere else, we realize the true character of mystery: mystery not just as the focus for our questioning and investigating, but mystery as that which questions us, which calls us to account. (145)
Because the humanities are concerned with human beings, they need to acknowledge the centrality of mystery. When they lose sight of the mystery of human freedom and the human will, they fade into the social sciences and ultimately into “hard” science. Moreover, theology anchors this mysteriousness of the human being in our creation in God’s image. Thus
The fundamental thing that Christian theology can contribute, as one way of pursuing knowledge, to all other ways of pursuing knowledge is, as Pieper puts it very well, ‘that it should hinder and resist the natural craving of the human spirit for a clear, transparent and definite system’. And it should do this by keeping open access to the tradition which is the vantage-point from which we can behold the mystery of God, which has been revealed in Christ. (146)