Last night I had a less-than-pleasant encounter with the Dutch railways, in which there seemed to be delayed trains all over the country, resulting in chaos in stations and on trains. Standing in a coach, and slightly frazzled after chaos at the station, I was not really inclined to read the book I had brought with me. So I pulled out my little MP3 player which, given the disrupted state of my life in the last year, has not been connected to a computer for more than a year. I have some patristic texts on it – thanks to Maria Lectrix – and a few old lectures. One of these, David Fagerberg’s paper at last year’s Liturgical Symposium at St Vladimir’s Seminary on “The cost of understanding Schmemann in the West” had particularly resonated with me then, so I listened to it again. There is much that is quotable, but I should really find the printed article before doing more, but here is a taste…

The West tends to think of theology as a mental activity. Probably this is because the people to whom the West gives the name theologian live in the academy. Theology is a science practised in the hall of sciences, and even if an individual theologian is also urged to have faith commitments in his or her heart, and to be active in service to the poor, the only reason for calling these people theologians is because of what they think about. Worship is taken to be either an expression of believe, or an instrument for the creation of belief. And only if that believing requires a tune-up clarification does theology enter the picture. Liturgy is a place to stage the theological content we have deduced and believe. But theology’s origin is not in liturgy, it is in texts and its output is more texts for the next generation of theologians to critique and surpass. As Schmemann says in an early essay:

It is indeed the original sin of the entire western theological development that it made texts the only loci theologica, the extrinsic authorities of theology, disconnecting theology from its living source, liturgy and spirituality.

Schmemann is capable of understanding the term theology in this cognitive way. Of course, you can speak more than one language game. He does so in a definition in his first work Introduction to Liturgical Theology, where he writes: “Theology is above all explanation, the search for words appropriate to the nature of God. That is, for a system of concepts corresponding as much as possible to the faith and experience of the Church.”

But in a journal entry a dozen years’ later, Schmemann uses a different language game:

Pascha, Holy Week, essentially bright days, such as are needed. And truly, that is all that is needed. I am convinced that if people would really hear Holy Week, Pascha, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the Dormition, there would be no need for theology. All of theology is here. All that is needed for one’s spirit, heart, mind and soul. How could people spend centuries discussing justification and redemption? It’s all in these services. Not only is it revealed, it simply flows in one’s heart and mind.

I think it would be wrong to use this as a brush to paint Schmemann or Orthodoxy as anti-intellectual. Instead, there are two things going on here. First, Schmemann is identifying theology’s home, its native habitat. Theology is more a vision than a cognition. And all that theology would speak to explain in words is here in act, in the liturgical act of the Church celebrating Christ’s Paschal Mystery. Schmemann is not opposed to theological discussion; he is opposed to letting theological discussion ever break free from a vision of the Trinity in action. …

The second thing going on in this quotation is the connection of theology with theosis. The beginning of theology is not the card catalogue, but doing battle with the passions. And the end of theology is not becoming a professor, but becoming a saint. The image of God grows more into the likeness of God. And although Schmemann writes little about asceticism explicitly, he stands in a tradition for which theologia is at the end of an ascetical journey.