Andrew Louth


Dipping into Greek East and Latin West. The Church AD 681-1071 as bedtime reading is probably not such a good idea, but does lead to interesting discoveries. I knew of course that one of the differences between East and West is their use in the Eucharist of leavened and unleavened bread respectively. I may even have heard that there have been controversies over it. But I did not know that it was the most explicitly invoked issue in the controversies of 1054. And, quite frankly, I don’t think that I would ever have been inclined to take it seriously as a cause of division. But the background that Father Louth provides is interesting.

It turns out that the Greeks interpreted the Latin use of unleavened bread against the background of their contacts with the Armenians, who also used unleavened bread. And given that the Armenians were so-called monophysites, their use of unleavened bread was interpreted against the background of their defective Christology

… in contrast to “the substance of our [human] dough,” which is “ensouled” and is what “the Word of God assumed and of which he became its hypostasis.” With this play on words, the argument is moving from being about the nature of the eucharistic bread to the nature of the Incarnation; the one mirrors the other, the leavened bread of the Eucharist mirroring the “ensouled nature” that, according to orthodox Christology, the Word assumed. Advocates of unleavened bread are both caught in the Old Testament, prior to the Incarnation, and betray a Christology in which the human nature that Christ assumes is defective… (312-313)

The Latins, by contrast, based their use of unleavened bread (which they probably introduced for practical reasons) on the supposed practice of Jesus in celebrating the Passover meal. They interpreted this against the background of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, which in Latin read “Do you not know that a little leaven corrupts the whole dough?”

Father Louth comments:

Two systems of symbolism, focused on the same liturgical act, developed, but they took their inspiration from the stark contradiction of leavened or unleavened bread. The refusal, on either side, to enter the symbolic world of the other could be presented as a fundamental apostasy. The Latins, with their unleavened bread, were Judaizing, or shrinking from acknowledging the full humanity of Christ (an objection that worked better against the Armenians); the Greeks, with their leavened bread, were virtual Marcionites, discarding the Old Covenant in celebrating the Passover with his disciples. (314)

This serves to underline the fundamental role that symbolic worlds play the challenge of entering into the symbolic world of the other.

It turns out that I am a Rule 73 Benedictine. I had never heard of Rule 73 Benedictinism before, but I have it on the good authority of Andrew Louth, who, as all my readers know, has near infallible status on this blog.  Last week I received Father Louth’s Greek East and Latin West. The Church AD 681-1071 as a belated profession gift. I regret that I am not going to get to reading it seriously for quite a while, but have been dipping into it now and then, hence the discovery that I’m a Rule 73 Benedictine. This was a movement that preceded the Cistercian Reform in which

chapter 73, the last chapter of the Rule, came to be regarded as a signpost to the real purpose of the Rule – to lead the monk to “the loftier heights of wisdom and virtue,” doctinae virtutumque culmina. It was such an understanding of the Benedictine Rule that would inspire the reform of the Cistercians. (278)

No doubt I will discover many other things of which I am profoundly ignorant when I eventually get to reading this book!

Father Louth concludes this essay by noting the transformation that the word theoretikos has undergone. Whereas contemporary mystical discourse seeks to highlight mysticism’s experiential nature in contrast to theoretical knowledge, which is seen as abstract and speculative, for the Fathers

Theoretikos means contemplative; that is, seeing and knowing in a deep and transforming way. The ‘practical’, praktikos (see above on Evagrios), is the personal struggle with our too often wayward drives and desires, which prepares for the exercise of contemplation, theoria; that is, a dispassionate seeing and awareness constituting genuine knowledge, a knowledge that is more than information, however accurate – a real participation in what is known, in the One whom we come to know. The word theoretikos came to be one of the most common words in Byzantine Greek for designating the deeper meaning of the Scriptures, where one found oneself caught up in contemplation, theoria, of Christ. The mystical life, the ‘theoretical’ life, is what we experience when we are caught up in the contemplation of Christ, when, in that contemplation, we come to know ‘face to face’ and, as the Apostle Paul puts it, ‘know, even as I am known’ (1 Cor. 13:12).

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 214.

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I don’t think that I can add anything to this at this point! I have appreciated this essay for the light that it sheds on my frustration with much contemporary Western discourse on mysticism, which was first kindled by reading Denys Turner’s The Darkness of God several years ago. And it is not without relevance to the frustration concerning academic theology expressed in my last post!

… alongside the great attempts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to find in mysticism an ecumenism of spirit – a kind of synchronic mysticism – there is also an attempt to define a kind of diachronic mysticism, a mysticism that stretches throughout the ages, a mysticism that has a tradition. What this endeavour seeks to establish is a kind of canon of Christian mystical literature – a literature manifesting that kind of likeness Zaehner mentioned – reaching back to the beginnings (Jesus or Adam?). What are the criteria of this canon, we might ask? (We are not asking an abstract question or a question to those now dead. Bernard McGinn’s attempt to write a massive ‘History of Western Christian Mysticism’, called The Presence of God, depends on the existence of such a canon.) It seems to me that the criteria are both negative and positive: negatively, all is excluded that is doctrinal or narrowly liturgical; positively, there is a search for material that is experiential. The result is, it seems to me, entirely eclectic, and frequently misconceived.

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 211-212.

While the development of the concept of mysticism represents the fragmentation and breakdown of tradition and a move from reliance on tradition towards finding authority in inward experience, it nevertheless “needed to feel that it represented a tradition”. (211) Hence the development of a canon of Christian mysticism. 

However, following Denys Turner, Father Louth argues that such a development is only possible by misconstruing much of the literature prior to the later Middle Ages. Regarding the imagery of negativity and darkness, Turner had argued that whereas such imagery was originally used in an ontological and epistemological way, it now comes to be interpreted experientially “and the earlier literature, once it is included in the ‘canon’, is subjected to such an interpretation.” (212) Louth continues:

…what we are doing is privileging a very small period of recent history, an element, I would argue, in an attempt to get behind historical and religious traditions, experienced as being oppressive, though, instead of doing this by attacking tradition as such – which was the enterprise initially of the Reformation, and more thoroughly of the Enlightenment – it is done by discovering – or, I would say, inventing – a tradition that is deeper and partially obscured. It is indeed a modern gnosticism. One needs to recall, too, that such tradition-making is a well-documented phenomenon in post-Enlightenment history … (212)

Thus Louth argues that Christian mysticism is not a settled concept but the name for a religious strategy that originated in early modern (or late medieval) Europe. It is a strategy that may have parallels in other religions, but we shall not discover that simply by looking at the “mystical writings” of other religions, as if there is an “essence” religions that can be isolated.

‘Comparative mysticism’ is too easy, and unhistorical: it simply lulls us into thinking that we can regard as fundamentally significant (‘mystical’ has never lost the connotation of what really matters, what is ultimately powerful) what appeals to the individualized consciousness of the West – religious literature that aspires to the form of poetry, devoid of dogmatic content or ritual expression. (213)

Whereas in the traditional understanding, the true body of Christ had been realized in the celebration of the Eucharist that culminated in communion in the mystical/sacramental body, in this late medieval understanding, the celebration of the Eucharist becomes the rite by which the priest effects the miracle of the true body of Christ, which then exists quasi-independently. The Church as a community recedes from history into the ‘mystical body of Christ’; the visible Church that remains splits into the institutional priesthood that has power to make present the verum corpus Christi and the laity.

So far as the word ‘mystical’ is concerned, what has happened is that it has been wrenched from its traditional meaning as identical with sacramental and cast adrift. Whereas in the older usage, the primary meanings of ‘mystical’ applied to something evident – the scriptural text, or the sacramental elements, and indeed anything used in a liturgical context – to affirm that its real meaning lay deeper, now the term corpus mysticum Christi applies to something not evident: ‘mystical’ in this sense means precisely the Church as not manifest, the ‘real’ Church as distinct from the institutional Church. The term ‘mystical’ becomes opaque; instead of designating something that is a sign of something hidden, it designates the hidden reality itself. It acquires a quite different charge.

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 209-210.

Father Louth proceeds to consider the implications of the shift in meaning that the phrase “mystical body of Christ” underwent in the twelfth century. He draws on Henri de Lubac’s Corpus Mysticum which shows how this phrase had previously referred to the Eucharistic elements as is consonant with the patristic use of the term “mystical” outlined earlier. However, in the twelfth century the consecrated bread of the Eucharist became the “true body of Christ”, while the Church came to be seen as the mystical body of Christ. This did not refer to the Church in its institutional aspect however, but rather to an invisible Church spanning heaven and earth. Thus the consecrated elements come to be abstracted from the community that celebrates them. This community becomes itself more vague and not identifiable with the actual life of the Church, and yet at the same time the distinction between clergy and laity takes on a new and more entrenched meaning.

Instead of the consecrated elements, through communion, being a sign that effects and deepens the incorporation of the baptized Christian in the body of Christ, so that the mystical/sacramental body points to the true body to which all Christians belong, the consecrated host becomes an end in itself, an object of adoration. (209)

It is in this context that we should view the development of “mystical” movements in the late Middle Ages. The flowering of such movements provided people with the possibility of direct access to God by they were able to bypass (or sometimes challenge) priestly power over the sacraments. This is particularly the case in the women’s spirituality of this period

women, excluded by their sex from the priesthood, find in themselves, I their dreams, in their bodies hidden signs – mystical signs, particularly of Christ’s wounds – that establish access to a divine power to rival that of the priesthood. Such claims do not always challenge the reality of priestly power – mostly they do not – but they claim an equivalent power: the most famous woman making such a claim was St Catherine of Siena. The mystical is now thoroughly individualized, and from the late Middle Ages onwards, there is a conflict between the mystical and the institutional… (210)

The Fathers understood the mystical to refer to Scripture, the liturgy and the hidden reality of Christian life. However, it is now only this third meaning that remains, stripped moreover of the ecclesial context into which it traditionally fitted. Christian mysticism, then, emerges, not as an expression of some universal religious phenomenon, but as

one of the elements of the fragmentation of the Western Christian tradition that took place in the later Middle Ages and issued in, among other things, the Reformation. (211)

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This obviously has far-reaching implications which I am not going to discuss now – perhaps another time!

If we look for the ‘mystical’ in the Dionysian corpus, what we find is something deeply traditional: mystikos and related words are indeed favourites with Dionysius, but they fit perfectly into the context we have already outlined. And that is a context of biblical and liturgical symblism … the ‘mystical’ meaning is what these biblical and liturgical symbols refer to. … Dionysius is concerned with the cosmic order disclosed by the biblical revelation and celebrated in the Christian liturgy.

But whatever Dionysius meant in the sixth century, and continued to mean for the Byzantine world, he suffered a strange alteration when he came to be known in the Latin West.

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 206-207.

Father Louth notes the re-evaluation of Dionysius work in recent years in which the depiction of him as a pagan Neoplatonist is giving way to the recognition of him as someone who used the framework of late Neoplatonism to express fundamentally Christian ideas that are dependent on Scripture and the liturgy.

While Dionysius’ reception in the West is a complex story that is not yet fully understood, the new linguistic, cultural and ecclesial context meant that his works, and particularly his understanding of the mystical, came to acquire rather different shades of meaning leading to a distinction, perhaps even a divorce, between the sacramental and the mystical. Louth writes:

… in translation – and in a Latin culture increasingly removed from the East Byzantine world to which Dionysius himself belonged – Dionysius assumed a different aspect. Again we can keep to the word mystikos, the history of which we are tracing. We have seen that in the Greek of the Fathers it means ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’, and is etymologically linked to the word mysterion, which refers both to the Gospel of the Incarnate Word, and to the sacraments. The biblical and the sacramental fit together. But in Latin things start to come apart: mysterion is either translated sacramentum, especially when it refers to sacraments or sacramental actions (there was no notion of seven sacraments until the twelve century), or transliterated as mysterium. It is often remarked – right through the Middle Ages – that mysterium means sacramentum, but what was obvious in Greek comes to be inferred in Latin. Mystikos is invariably translated mysticus, but its association with the sacramental is obscured. So a collection of associations evident in Greek becomes something that is at best inferred in Latin, and sometimes lost altogether. Mysterium and mysticus begin to develop a life of their own. (207)

This shift in meaning is also influenced by two further factors.

Firstly, the liturgical focus of Dionysius’ work is less immediately obvious in a Western context as the liturgical world that he explores had become increasingly foreign to Western Christians as the Eastern and Western liturgical traditions had gone their separate ways. As a result

whereas in the traditional understanding of Dionysius, which is still found in the West as late as the twelfth century, the two works on the hierarchies – the Celestial Hierarchy and the Ecclesial Hierarchy – form the centre of gravity, to which Dionysius’ other works relate, by the thirteenth century, the two works on the hierarchies fade into the background, and the centre of gravity becomes either the Divine Names, interpreted as a logical treatise about divine predication – so the Scholastics – or the Mystical Theology – as with the growing, largely vernacular ‘mystical’ movement. (208)

Secondly, Dionysius was now read against a very different cultural and theological background, coloured by the rediscovery of Augustine in the twelfth century. Augustine’s vision focused more on the drama of the individual soul than on the structures of a liturgical society and the cosmic dimension of Dionysius’ thought receded into the background and was forgotten.

These two factors allow the ‘mystical’ to lose its anchoring in the biblical and liturgical, as with Dionysius and the Fathers, and offer it another context: that of the individual. (208)

In the next post, I shall report on Father Louth’s discussion of the shifts that occurred in the understanding of the Body of Christ in the Medieval West.

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For anyone interested in more on this:

  • Father Louth has written a book on Dionysius the Areopagite, which I am sure is worth reading, but which I unfortunately won’t get to for quite a while.
  • Felix Culpa of Ora et Labora had a series of posts (I, II, III, IV & V) earlier this year in which discussed twentieth century Orthodox readings of Dionysius.
  • Father Louth has an essay on “The body in Western Catholic Christianity” in Religion and the Body (edited by Sarah Coakley) in which he discusses the influence of Augustine’s shift to interiority in more detail. I read it about a year ago and don’t have access to it at the moment, but intend writing more on it when I get hold of it again.

If the ‘mysticism’ of the Fathers is what these various uses of mystikos refer to, then it is very different from what we call mysticism nowadays: it does not refer to some elite group, or elite practice, within Christianity, it simply refers to the lived reality of Christianity itself. It is not something separate from the institutions of Christianity: it is the meaning that these institutions enshrine. It is not something distinct from the dogmas of Christianity, for the ‘mystical’ meaning of Scripture, in this sense, is often enough precisely such dogmas, which are the hidden meaning of the Scriptures. ‘Mystical’ and ‘sacramental’, from this perspective, are interchangeable: which is hardly surprising, as sacramentum is the Latin word used to translate mysterion.

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 205.

In discussing his own earlier use of the terms “mysticism” and “mystical tradition” in relation to the Church Fathers, Father Louth points to the revival of patristic learning – both Orthodox and Catholic – before the Second World War, in which scholars found themselves drawn to the Fathers “because with them dogma and spirituality (another freighted word!) seemed to belong together, and the term ‘mystical theology’ was used to designate this point of convergence.” (203) However, this led to questions of what the word “mysticism” really meant in relation to the Fathers. Moreover, while the term “mysticism” is not found in the Fathers, the adjective mystikos from which it is derived is common. This has led to the danger

of reading back into the early centuries ideas that have no place there. And that is, I think, what has happened. But if it is the case – and it is not difficult to show that it is – that the comparatively modern word ‘mysticism’ has a past that includes the use of the adjective mystikos, then it might be worth tracing that past, to see what light it sheds on the development of the term ‘mysticism’, and, in particular, what hidden agendas are concealed by the use of that term. (204)

Louth proceeds to discuss an essay by Père Louis Bouyer on the history of the word “mysticism” in which he distinguished three ways in which the word mystikos was used in patristic Greek. The first and most common usage was its to designate the mystical meaning of Scripture. The second usage, which became increasingly frequent from the fourth century, was to designate the liturgical texts and ceremonies. The third and least common use was to refer to the Christian life. The word itself originates with the Hellenistic mystery religions and its root has to do with a secret kept, and its various forms relate to initiation into this secret. However, Bouyer argued that the similarity between the language of the Fathers and that of the mystery religions was superficial, for the real context of its patristic use was quite different. Louth continues:

At its heart is the understanding of Christ as the divine mysterion: an idea central to the epistles of the Apostle Paul. This secret is a secret that has been told; but despite that it remains a secret, because what has been declared cannot be simply grasped , since it is God’s secret, and God is beyond any human comprehension. The secret of the Gospel is the hidden meaning of the Scriptures: for Christians the whole of what they call the ‘Old Testament’ finds its true meaning in Christ. God’s plan for humankind to which the Scriptures bear witness is made plain in the Incarnation. And this is the most common context, as we have seen, for the use of the word mystikos: it refers therefore to the hidden meaning of the Scriptures, the true meaning that is revealed in Christ, a meaning that remains mysterious, for it is no simple message, but the life in Christ that is endless in its implications. Christians, however, share in the life of Christ pre-eminently through the sacraments – mysteria in Greek – and the word mystikos is used therefore in relation to the sacraments as a way of designating the hidden reality, encountered and shared through the sacraments. The final use of the word mystikos refers to the hidden reality of the life of baptized Christians: a reality which is, as St Paul put it, ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Col. 3: 3). (205)

In the next post I shall present Father Louth’s discussion of Dionysius the Areopagite and the shifts that occurred with the transmission of his thought into the medieval West.

… the more I have read and thought about the phenomenon of ‘mysticism’, the more I have become convinced that the cluster of ideas associated with mysticism is not in the least a matter of ‘facts’, but rather strategies of thought and interpretation with a real, though not always focused, agenda. Furthermore, the more I have read the Fathers, the more the notion of the ‘mystical’ has come to be called into question – not in the sense that I feel inclined now to dismiss mysticism (as in Newman’s quip about mysticism beginning in mist and ending in schism), but rather that I have begun to realize that the mystical dimension is much more serious than our current ideas of mysticism envisage. Ultimately, a recovery of the patristic notion of the mystical involves a reconfiguration of what is involved in committing ourselves to be transformed by God’s grace – in the language of the Fathers, ‘deified’. As my original book made clear, for the Fathers this transformation certainly involved a reconstitution of individual human beings, but it is no individual quest, but rather the rediscovery of our humanity in Christ – the ecclesial and sacramental dimensions are part of the mystical, not to be contrasted with it. ‘Mysticism’, in this sense, is not esoteric but exemplary, not some kind of flight from the bodily but deeply embedded (not to say: embodied), not about special ‘experiences’ of God but about a radical opening of ourselves to God.

Andrew Louth, “Afterword” to the new edition of his The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys (Oxford, 2007) 201.

This afterword to the new edition of Father Louth’s book, originally published in 1981, is a remarkable essay that, at the risk of turning this blog into an Andrew Louth fan club, I am going discuss in some detail, for it addresses issues that seem to me to be of fundamental importance, but which are too little acknowledged in many contemporary Western Christian contexts.

In his afterword Louth notes some areas in which his thought has changed since first writing this book. However, his shift in perspective is more fundamental than simply a focus on details but concerns the very category of “mysticism” and “Christian mysticism” itself.

Now it seems to me obvious that the word ‘mysticism’ has a past, has a history: it is not at all innocent, and its use cannot be separated from a whole host of religious concerns that have a history, and a history that demands to be understood. (201)

Louth seeks to question the assumption that we can speak in any uncomplicated sense about a sort of universal mystical phenomenon. He does this by investigating the lack of clarity about mysticism in the Christian tradition.

For me the difficulty about the meaning of the term ‘mysticism’ is historical: I am worried about the way the term has emerged within the Christian tradition, so that it is now freighted with meanings that affect its present-day use, not least because this history, and these meanings, are often unknown to those who use the term – and freighted with meanings, not simply in a lexical sense, by freighted with claims to a certain authority, made in particular times and particular contexts, claims that do not simply slip away when the times and contexts recede from conscious memory. (203)

In the next post I shall present Father Louth’s discussion of the vocabulary of “mysticism” in relation to the Fathers of the Church.

My last post was the final installment in my reading of Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery and I have now provided links to all the posts in this reading on my Completed Series page.

I am sure that there is a lot more that one can say about this book, but I am leaving it aside for now. I had not intended to spend so much time on it or to write on it so extensively, but it somehow seemed to demand my attention. I’m aware that much of what I wrote was more recapitulating what Father Louth was arguing rather than providing a particularly intelligent commentary, but it has been having an effect on me that in some respects I still need to verbalise properly, and I’m not sure how much of that I really want to blog on in public!

In any case, I’m laying it aside for now. There are other books by Father Louth that I hope to read in the not-too-distant future, and a couple of articles that I intend writing on soon. And I really do intend picking up my reading of Being as Communion again: that was the real reason for starting this blog, but Discerning the Mystery sort of jumped up and said “Read me!” and it didn’t work trying to write on two books at once.

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)

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