Thursday 16 June 2016

Doodlings Dolce far Niente

A Sketch of Origen’s Theology: Principle #21: To sum up: live and learn, learn and live. See, for example, Origen’s lost text Cut and Chaste: The Pedagogy of Orchidectomical Procedures.

The church is a school of character. Among totally depraved Calvinists, make that a Reform school.

The unexamined life is not worth living. Mind, the alternative also sucks.

Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. “Who do you say I am?” he asked them. Thomas answered, “Hang on, lads: it’s another one of his trick questions. Better keep shtum and look stupid than open our mouths and remove all doubt” (Mark 8:27ff., Original Autograph, later plagiarised by another Mark – the Twain, not the Twin).

Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. “Who do you say I am?” he asked them. Peter answered, “You are my personal Lord and Saviour.” Jesus wept (Mark 8:27ff. and the misplaced logion John 11:35, Another Original Autograph).

How can you tell if you lack imagination? Take Genesis 2:18ff., the scene where Adam names the animals: if you think “tiger, moose, cat, dog”, rather than “Hobbes, Bullwinkle, Sylvester, Snoopy”, you’ve definitely got an imagination deficit.

“The parents ate sour grapes, the children got the shits real bad” (proverb cited in Ezekiel 18:1, rephrased to cover Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.).

Malcolm Turnbull has condemned Australian Opposition leader Bill Shorten for saying that Trump is “barking mad”. A barksperson for the National Federation of Dingoes has condemned Shorten’s language as “an insult to our members”.

The most chilling thing that his supporters say is “Trump has a point.”

According to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump is utterly amoral, a narcissist, a pathological liar, and a serial philanderer. Perfect presidential material then.

Now that Trump will be Republican candidate for president, no doubt his PR people will give him a makeover for the campaign. So a pig with lipstick. Or rather a boar with bouffant, bronzer, and balm.

Electing Donald Trump President of the United States would be like appointing Thomas Sweatt Chief of the Washington, D.C. Fire Department.

New book on hold until November: First as Farce, Then as Tragedy: The Presidential Campaign of Donald Trump.

Who will Trump select as his running mate? Pick a Kardashian – any Kardashian – and victory is his.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to think that they know all that is necessary for the triumph of evil.

Question: Who said, “I had no sense of peace, no joy, no conviction that what I was doing was right. It was just something that I had to do, a task to be gotten through”?
(a) Dorothy Day, on being baptised and received into the Catholic Church.
(b) John Tavener, on attending a Hillsong Easter service.
(c) Stanley Hauerwas, on singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Opening Day.
(d) Ben Myers, on reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
Answer: Probably “Yes”, but definitely (a).

Blessed are those who never pray but simply find themselves praying.

It’s been said that women think with their whole bodies. That sounds right to me. I think there is something inherently gnostic in male cogitation. (And male copulation, for that matter.) I can just see Descartes boasting of the cogito to his mistress Helena – and hear her reply: “Ne fais pas l’idiot, René!”

Asked when he was 76 whether he had any regrets, John Betjeman replied, “Yes, I haven’t had enough sex.” So that’s 9 years and counting …

I recently took a Dodd-Schweitzer Personality Type Test. After analysing the results, my minister told me that I suffer from eschatological schizophrenia: apparently I’m both an “already” (A) and a “not-yet” (NY). “But what if I’m a ‘never-will-be’ (NWB)?” I asked anxiously. “Less Calvin, more Barth,” she comforted and counselled me: “There are no NWBs. But be careful about becoming a ‘can’t-wait’ (CW).”

Beware the moral high ground: it’s the perfect place for launching your opponent onto the rocks below (cf. Luke 4:28ff.).

“On Self-preening and Self-pruning”: a sermon on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).

The martyrs are like stones thrown into a pond: as they sink, the waters ripple.

The Sermon on the Mount – it ain’t for extra credit.

My wife often tells me that my study looks like a building site. “What else should it look like?” I tell her back. “It is here that I construct sentences.”

Wednesday 15 June 2016

On the strangely graced lives of Christians: a book launch talk

I had the pleasure of speaking at the launch of a fine new book of essays on George Whitefield on the weekend. The volume arises from a conference held in Oxford at the tercentenary of Whitefield's birth, and is edited by Geordan Hammond and David Ceri Jones. 

The editors must have exhausted all of their good judgement on the construction of the volume, since they asked a theologian to launch a book of historical scholarship. I gleefully accepted my charge, and waxed rhapsodic about the lives of strange Christians. Here is a sample taken from the talk, for those who are interested.

George Herbert describes the Christian life as a colour-stained window: itself “brittle crazy glass” that is brilliant only as it is illuminated by the sun. Such windowed lives release the divine colour into the world as they are transparent to God’s light. We have sometimes called such lives “saintly”. But our conception of “saintliness” sometimes gets in the way of our appreciation of the Christian past.
Historical study has two cardinal sins: anachronism and hagiography. Anachronism is an aberration in historical methodology, but the problem with hagiography is entirely theological: the hagiographer doesn’t understand sainthood. The saints are not blandly impeccable. As G. K. Chesterton observes, a saint is simply someone who knows that they are a sinner. Perhaps there is something of this in Whitefield—though it's not always visible. The editors note in their introduction that Whitefield drew “audacious comparisons between his own life and the life of Christ” as he published his own hagiographic autobiographical journals (in his twenties, no less!). It was only later in life that he removed some of the more purple-tinted passages from these journals. We won’t understand our saints by overlooking their faults, as this book makes plain.
We have before us the many Whitefields. Here stands the superficial Whitefield: the dramatic and tearfully flamboyant preacher, afflicted with a “squint” since childhood, and endowed with a resonant voice. And beside him see the self-important Whitefield: convinced of divine calling, capable of discerning divine will, illusioned with notions of greatness, who at one time shared that he was predestined by divine fiat for the episcopacy. Behold here the evangelical Whitefield: with a certain formula for salvation, convinced of humanity’s great need of divine grace. Meet Whitefield the controversialist: picking fights with theatre groups, denouncing rationalists, and attempting to moderate John Wesley’s aversion to Calvinism. Know the travelling Whitefield: fostering the revivals in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and traversing North America and allowing his heart to settle in its towns, eventually releasing his soul there. And contemplate the difficult Whitefield: a failure at familial relations, terrible with friendships and women (once proposing by asking “Can you, when you have a husband, be as though you had none?”), finally unhappily married, and unreconciled with his Mother before her death. He was an uncomfortably ardent supporter of slavery, controlled by the belief that the institution of slavery must be refined rather than abolished by the Christian gospel.
A hagiography could never be so interesting—and a life is never so simple as being merely an example of impeccable spiritual performance. Just like the saints, Whitefield’s life can only speak to us if it is a human life. How can we understand grace, if we have never allowed ourselves to see the gaps in nature?

The real gift of this volume is the way that the perceptible texture of Whitefield’s life comes across in some of the more surprising essays. Braxton Boren studies the acoustics of Whitefield’s voice—just how accurate are those reports of crowds in the tens of thousands? As one who’s always thought that these scenarios are either highly unlikely, or would be ripe for misunderstanding— producing something like the confusion of the sermon on the mount in the Life of Brian (“blessed are the cheesemakers”)—the results of this chapter were quite a surprise. It seems that Whitefield had an able voice. In a chapter that can only remind one of the rough and impassioned preacher from Moby Dick, Stephen Berry writes of Whitefield’s relationship with the Atlantic. Added up, Whitefield spent three full years at sea. “He was”, Berry writes, “a wandering sailor awaiting his final harbour.”

My favourite chapter is Emma Salgård Cunha’s piece on Whitefield’s use of literary technique to stimulate the affections. “Whitefield’s primary activity… was to preach”, she writes. He even wrote a sermon on how to listen to sermons—an idea that we should seriously consider filching. Whitefield saw some connection between the material mechanics of the sermon and divine grace. And yet, he was keenly aware of the distinction between genuinely graced affection, and human emotional manipulation—exploiting it crucially in one particular sermon by bringing his congregation to tears and back, only to show them how moved they are by human tragedy while yet remaining unmoved by Christ’s passion.

Tears, you might know, are a common theme when discussing Whitefield. He is a man always on the verge of embarrassing himself by weeping. Tears, as Whitefield himself knew, are not always pious and admirable. They can be petty. Whitefield, in this volume, weeps both kinds of tears.

This book is mostly historical, and we are told that the good historian will not insert themselves into the past, but that is not to say that the past won’t rush forward to meet us in the present. My discipline is sometimes called “systematic theology”, which sounds like an orderly and tidy discipline. But if my profession is marked by anything, it is an ardent disrespect for boundaries. The systematician doesn’t want to leave the past in the past, but wants to see it come alive in the present. I want to see all the great Christians of history standing before me: I want to see Ignatius before the lions, hear Origen reading scripture, observe Macrina instruct her brothers, hide behind the pear tree as Augustine sins, sit in the cells across the centuries with Evagrius and Symeon and John and Theresa contemplating the darkness, witness the storm with Luther, and live in the city with Calvin. And I want all of this so that I can learn what faith is, so that I can know how to pray.

We look to our Christian forebears to see the cracks in our nature, and to find where grace fits. And we have to thank Geordan Hammond, David Ceri Jones, and all the contributors to this fine volume for lifting up the window of George Whitefield’s life, so that we can examine the brittle glass in the hope that the sun might strike it and shine through into our dark halls.

Saturday 11 June 2016

On experiencing time travel while reading the morning paper

 Ordinarily I am a slave to the alarm clock. But even slaves deserve a holiday, and it is my custom on Sunday mornings to sleep in. When Nature has gently roused me from the world of dreams, I pull up the blinds and lie in bed a while longer with the sunlight pouring in through the window. It is the one day of the week when the sun is up before me and the birds are already awake and singing, sweeter by far than the mechanical chirp chirp chirp of an alarm clock in the dark. When I have enjoyed all this for a while, the sun and the birds and the bare branches of the maple tree against the sky, then I stumble out of bed and down to the kitchen and return with coffee and the weekend paper. Now comes the most important part of my Sunday ritual. I prop myself up with cushions – now I can see straight out over the rooftops and the powerlines and the distant trees and the very wide blue sky – and there, as comfortable as any king, I drink the hot black coffee and read the paper, looking up from time to time to bestow appreciate glances on the world outside my window.

But today something unnerving happened. I suffered a bout of time travel and I want to tell you about it.

I was in that dreamy state when you have just opened the paper and the first sips of coffee have just started to permeate the mind. I was not so much reading as letting my eyes slide passively from one news column to the next. I couldn’t say what it was about, I suppose the usual stuff, taxes and interest rates and people killing each other in far away places, when all at once my attention was seized by a particular phrase. It shocked me into a heightened state of awareness. Here are the words that had this electrifying effect on me: “earlier this month, on 6 July.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I remind you that we are now in the month of June. But the paper said “earlier this month, on 6 July.” How could any date in July be “earlier” when July is still a month away?

The words on the page disturbed me deeply. My skin prickled. Something very cold spread outwards from the pit of my stomach. I felt the bony fingers of the uncanny tightening their grip on my mind. I thought: I am in the wrong month; I have gone to sleep in the middle of June and woken up in the middle of July; I must have travelled through time; I have lost the month of June, it is gone forever. I thought: How could this happen? What could it mean? What will become of me now?

It took only a second for this unseemly chain of reasoning to develop. Then in the very next second the simple, reassuring truth dawned on me: It is a typo in the newspaper: a simple mistake: they said July when they meant to say June.

What a relief! Instantly the dread of time travel evaporated. I was back on the solid ground of Reality. I could almost have kissed Reality, I was so happy to see her again!

It is hard to understand how my imagination could concoct such a fanciful interpretation of a few words in the newspaper. Even harder to understand when you consider that newspaper typos are not a rare occurrence. In fact, I never read the morning paper without noticing ten or twenty small mistakes, a combination of typos and grammatical errors. I do not obsess about such things. I do not go out of my way to detect errors. I do not write letters to the editor filled with reproaches for misplaced apostrophes. I just happen to notice them, that’s all.

So you can see what baffles me. I have come to expect a certain level of error on any page of the newspaper. Why then did my imagination seize upon the most fantastical, most unlikely, most other-worldly interpretation of the mistaken word “July”? Why did I rush headlong to the conclusion that the paper was presenting me with evidence of time travel? It is too strange, I cannot explain it.

But the next part of my story is even stranger. I hesitate to speak of it at all. The contemplation of what comes next disturbs me. Again I feel a cold dread in the pit of my stomach. After I have written this confession I will have to take a walk, clear my head, try to forget the whole thing.

Here, then, is what happened. Explain it to me if you can.

Consoled as I was by the realisation that it had only been a typo after all, a simple misunderstanding, that there had been no time travel, that the paper had merely said “July” when it meant to say “June” – consoled by all this, and smiling a little at my own foolishness, I glanced back at the page. It said: “earlier this month, on 6 June.”


I cleaned my glasses and looked again. I scrutinised the words with the utmost care. There it was, as plain as day. “Earlier this month, on 6 June.” There had been no typo at all, no mistake, nothing of the kind. There was no mention of July anywhere on the page. All my speculations about time travel had been based on – nothing! I had not misinterpreted a typo in the paper. I had created one. It was a projection of my own imagination. I saw a word that wasn’t really there and then supplied its fanciful interpretation.

I cannot say what any of this means, I cannot guess. Is this what madness is like, to fabricate interpretations around symbols that are not really there? Is this what it is like to be one of those ideological critics who project imagined grievances on to everything they read and then spin webs of meaning out of those projections? Is that what reading is always like for some people, a cold self-referential Gnosticism that sees July (and runs away with it) where the page says only June? Or should I learn a simpler moral lesson from my experience, not to have that last slice of pizza before bed on Saturday night?

Whatever it all means, I can only say that the mind is full of surprises. It is fearfully and wonderfully made. We tell ourselves that it will do our bidding. But it is the mind that bids and we who must reply.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

The plague of italics: its causes, history, and remedy

 For a long time I have kept silent on this topic. But the word is like fire in my bones. I cannot be silent, I must speak. Too much is at stake. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good bloggers to do nothing. My friends, there is a great evil at large in the world, and today I must raise my voice against it.

I refer to the use of italics in theological prose.

Now the italic was once man’s friend. It provided writers and their readers with a humble, homely service. You could use italics (1) for the title of a book or film (Gone with the Wind), or (2) for foreign words (mieux vaut prévenir que guérir), or (3) for algebraic expressions (n + 1), or (4) to show that a word is being used self-consciously as a word (“George Herbert uses the word stand to mean indecision”). Beyond those four uses, the italic had only one further legitimate use, and that was (5) to add emphasis to a word in special cases where a sentence would be unintelligible or confusing without it. This last use of italics is harder to define but easy to illustrate (“I only said I might murder you”; “the question is whether I’m in love with you”).

Now hear me, all you writers of the world! Hear me, you publishers and editors! Hear me O students and teachers! Beyond the five uses that I have just mentioned, there is no occasion for adding italics to your sentences.

No. Occasion.

If you would like to emphasise a certain word in your sentence, then you should construct the sentence in such a way that the emphasis falls where you want it to fall. That is why the Lord has given us the power to make sentences, so that we can get our point across with all the emphasis and precision that our hearts desire. But we have not been given this wonderful gift for the purpose of controlling our readers, or subjugating them, or micromanaging their responses, or shouting in their inner ear, or giving them migraines by constantly making their eyes shift between good Christian erect letters and lazy unrighteous slouching ones.

The overuse of italics has, today, reached plague proportions. Writers sprinkle their sentences with italics merely because they would like you to notice these particular words. But if I am reading the sentence, how could I fail to notice those particular words? Why, author, do you need to give me such emphatic and overbearing guidance? I am already reading your sentence; I am already committed to it; I am already willing to hear what you have to say.

Now I wish it were as easy as condemning the secular authors and praising the theologians for their chaste and lucid speech. But in this matter the children of the world are wiser than the children of light. Nowhere is the spread of italics more pervasive than in Christian theology. Nowhere else does one find such supercilious pedantry mixed with such despotic typographical authoritarianism. Nowhere else are authors so concerned to manage and control, word by italicised word, the reader’s responses to whatever is being said.

How did this plague of italics enter our sacred discourse? Those who like to claim that All Bad Things come from America will find no comfort here. For this infection has come, I am sorry to say, from the very heartland of our language, from Mother England herself.

I do not have time to write the full history here, so let me give it to you in brief. The virus was created in the theological laboratories of Great Britain’s most prestigious universities. The spread of the italic can be traced back to 1960s Oxford and Cambridge, and specifically to a generation of Catholic and Anglo-Catholic theologians influenced by Wittgenstein. The trouble began when these scholars started to cultivate an Anglicised imitation of Wittgenstein’s rather barbed, emphatic, italicised prose style.

If you have ever read a bit of Wittgenstein, you will know that an uncommonly extensive use of italics is one of the hallmarks of his German prose style. I have no objection to this since Wittgenstein was a genius; he was smarter than the rest of us put together; he changed the history of philosophy. If your ideas are as unique as Wittgenstein’s then please, by all means, go ahead and express them in a unique style. The problem is when the rest of us, mere mortals that we are, turn somebody else’s unique style into a meaningless affectation. It is bad for the language and, to that extent, bad for the soul.

In a thorough study of Wittgenstein’s use of italics, Gordon Baker observes its corrupting influence on later authors:
“Italics in [Wittgenstein’s] writings might be treated as the written counterpart of a well-known feature of his speech: he had the habit of putting very considerable stress on particular words or phrases. This mannerism proved infectious with some of his disciples. It has given much leverage for caricature and mockery (of him and them); as if a random exaggerated stress on such words as ‘this’ or ‘that’ might suffice by itself to create an aura of profundity” (Gordon Baker, “Italics in Wittgenstein,” in Wittgenstein’s Method, 225).
By a monstrous irony of history, some of the 1960s Wittgensteinian theologians banded together to form a Catholic Marxist group known as Slant. They had a journal by the same name. It had a lot of italics.

Now I won’t name names. And I happen to think that this particular circle of British Wittgensteinians produced some of the most worthwhile theology of the past fifty years. But their influence on the language of our discipline has been less than satisfactory. Their italicised affectation spread to their students and their students’ students, until eventually everyone was doing it – it’s all very biblical.

Let me show you some photographic evidence. These examples are chosen at random from theological books. They come from books on my own shelves, from authors I love and admire. (Love the sinner, hate the sin.) Let the reader decide if I am exaggerating the scale of the problem! Let the writer search his heart, and perhaps his books, in case I have used one as an example! Let publishers and editors beat their breasts – or, if that sounds too kinky, at least let them hang their heads!
Let us put a stop to all this, here and now! Let us make a vow, each one of us, never to italicise a word for emphasis unless the sentence would not make sense without it. Above all, let us agree never to italicise the words it is not true at the beginning of a sentence. No good will come of it!

If we don’t stop now, before long writers will start using bold-face to emphasise random bits of their text. Oh wait.

Monday 6 June 2016

Review of Donald Norwood, Reforming Rome: Karl Barth and Vatican II

Donald W. Norwood, Reforming Rome: Karl Barth and Vatican II (Eerdmans, 2015)

This is a timely book. Indeed as Donald Norward had been hatching it long before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis in 2013, it is a prophetic book. Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, states: “In its pilgrimage on earth Christ summons the church to continual reformation, of which it is always in need, in so far as it is an institution of human beings here on earth.” Yet after nearly fifty years this promising declaration seemed, to many an ecumenical Simeon, to have become a forlorn hope. Then, suddenly, habemus papam whose agenda actually includes – “reforming Rome.” (Well, at least the Roman Curia!)

At 232 pages of text Reforming Rome is not a long book, but its 25-page bibliography is suggestive of its compact comprehensiveness. It is hugely instructive and illuminating about Vatican II, not only in terms of input and output, but also as an event. That is, it not only provides a description and analysis of the Council’s work, it also gives a vivid sense of the Council as a kind of huge ecclesial gala for gift-exchange, as much about relationships as ideas. How delightfully Norwood weaves into his narrative snippets of the personal interactions of members and guests, before and after the Council as well as during it. Thus Vatican II becomes a model for the way to do our ecumenism today: unity-through-friendship. Which doesn’t mean that we must always be nice to each other, let alone agree with each other, but it does mean that we will always have each other’s backs.

Enter the ever polemical Karl Barth. From the first volume of his Church Dogmatics when he (in?)famously declared that the analogia entis, the ontological foundation for doing natural theology, is “the invention of Antichrist,” Barth was always up for a theological punch-up with Rome. Until the (school) bell, that is, when many of his Catholic interlocutors became beloved companions (particularly the two Hanses, Urs von Balthasar and Küng). Indeed for all his tenacious cross-examination of the Council’s documents – he lamented the failure of Nostra Aetate “to set forth an explicit confession of guilt” for the Church’s historic anti-Semitism; dubbed Dignitatis Humanae a “monstrosity”; and remained underwhelmed by even the moderated Mariology of Lumen Gentium – Barth was a dedicated evangelist for Vatican II, convinced in his dotage that there were now no “irreconcilable differences” to block the eschatological not-yet of unity from becoming ever more realised.

Other areas of contemporary as well as historical interest covered by Norwood – “The past is not dead; it is not even past,” wrote William Faulkner – include the excellent section devoted to the question of women (Barth told Rome that it still has work to do; women told Barth that he still has work to do too!); an update on why the doctrine of justification by faith should no longer be considered a church-dividing issue (though in my view the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith might be even more of an ecumenical game-changer had insights from the “New Perspectives on Paul” on the ecclesiological import of the doctrine informed the biblical studies done by its working party); and the parts that touch on polity, hierarchy, and the purple elephant that won’t leave the building, i.e., episcopacy (Barth, I sense, would support the ecumenical consensus about the threefold ministry, as long as there are laocratic checks and balances to the exercise of episcopal authority).

Reforming Rome is a must-read for anyone interested in Vatican II, in Karl Barth, and for all engaged in current ecumenical discussions, not least for the contagiousness of the author’s unquenchable enthusiasm for visible unity. In the book’s acknowledgements, Donald Norwood writes that “without the support of my lovely wife Margaret, I could not write another word.” To which uxorial praise I would only add: Margaret, stay healthy!

First published in the Society for Ecumenical Studies Journal

Thursday 2 June 2016

A sketch of Origen's theology: 20 principles

Well my postgraduate seminar on Origen's theology ended today. We read and discussed Exhortation to Martyrdom, On Prayer, First Principles book IV, the whole of Balthasar's anthology (Origen: Spirit and Fire), and the first half of the Commentary on John. At the end of the course I had a go at sketching out 20 principles of Origen's theology. These are not meant to be comprehensive but only an attempt to gather up some of the themes that we explored throughout the semester.

1.    Christian theology is a vision of spiritual pilgrimage: the pilgrimage through time of a holy community, and the pilgrimage of the soul towards eternity.

2.    These are not two pilgrimages, but one.

3.    This pilgrimage is motivated by desire. Human beings have an innate yearning for the beauty of God. Through that yearning we reach out beyond ourselves, beyond all time and space, towards our hidden source and destiny in eternal Love.

4.    All human beings are on a continuum of love and lovelessness. We are always either inching towards God in love or drifting away as our love grows cold. Nobody can love so much as to have already arrived; nobody can love so little as to be finally and irreparably lost.

5.    (At this point Origen’s theology could be integrated with a more pessimistic Augustinian theology of disordered desire: our innate yearning for God is both our best feature and the source of all our woe. We cannot move towards God through an effort of will, since will itself is subject to the vagaries of fallen desire. It is a mark of grace and healing whenever the will finds itself bending, however slightly and uncertainly, towards the Love of God.)

6.    There is no dualistic split within the human community, whether at the beginning (through the creation or predestination of two classes of people), or at the end (through the salvation of some and the damnation of others). All derive from a common unity, and all will finally share in the common fire and delight of Love.

7.    Evil is not part of creation. It is not a positive quality within creatures. Nor is it an eternal spiritual entity that opposes God. It is a privation, a shadow, a distortion of goodness, in which the creature bends itself away from Love and attaches itself to lesser goods.

8.    Fate, determinism, and anything that annihilates personal freedom must be rejected. Without a doctrine of personal freedom, the privation theory of evil would be impossible. The goodness of creatures (or of the creator, or both) would thus be compromised and the Christian metaphysical system would collapse.

9.    Body and soul are not absolutely divided but exist on a spiritual continuum. The soul can become “fleshly” as its love grows cold and it drifts away from God. The body can become “spiritual” as attachment to God increases. The goal of our pilgrimage is the divinisation of the soul and the spiritualisation of the body. This is not to deny that the future life will be embodied, but only to deny that our present experience is a reliable guide to what it means to be fully embodied and to enjoy wholeness of life. In the coming age we will be more physical, not less, than we are now.

10.    All creatures have an innate kinship with God, since God’s eternal Wisdom and Word, the Logos, contains within itself an outline of all creatures. The Logos adapts and accommodates himself to every creature, patiently and lovingly revealing to each one the truth of its source and destiny in the Love of God.

11.    Salvation is primarily a matter of revelation. By an infinitely patient divine pedagogy, the Son of God leads each soul through a lifelong (and longer-than-life) curriculum in Love.

12.    (Again, there is room for integration with Augustinianism at this point: why would our education in Love take so long unless our capacity for love were radically disordered and in need of the most extensive healing, correction, and practical training?)

13.    The Christian community is just as much a school, a community of learning, as it is a cultic or sacramental community.

14.    There is a distinction, but not a division, between beginners and the spiritually advanced. Both are on the same continuum of spiritual progress. The beginners are exhorted to become the advanced, and the advanced are warned against regressing. All who are, today, making progress in growth towards Love may be described as the spiritually “perfect,” since they are walking in the way of perfection.

15.    The main spiritual business of the Christian life is the reading and study of scripture. Scriptural exegesis is the instrument by which the Logos heals the soul, unmasks its fantasies, and trains it in the practice of the love of God.

16.    In this life, a deeper grasp of the meaning of scripture is not only the cause of spiritual progress, but also its main reward.

17.    The spiritual meaning of any passage of scripture lies in its relationship to the overall message of scripture: the good news of Jesus, God’s Son and our Saviour, the Wisdom and Word of God made flesh. It is only in relation to Jesus that all scripture finds its unity, coherence, and truthfulness.

18.    Platonism: the history of Israel is a typological revelation of eternal things.

19.    Christianised Platonism: the fact that history can reveal eternal things shows the value and dignity of history. The fact that material things can reveal spiritual things shows the value and dignity of matter.

20.    The divinisation of the self does not entail a destruction of the ego through a merging of the self with the divine nature. Rather it involves the continual exercise of personal freedom. It is the free and loving union of the creature with the creator, without abolishing the distinction between them. Because it is a union between the finite and the infinite, there can be no end point to divinisation. It is not perfection so much as perfecting. It is unceasing progress in growth and transformation. There is no limit to how much of God the soul can contain. Every advance in Love is an advance towards the infinite. The pilgrim soul travels deeper into Love, for endless ages, without ever reaching a final destination or without ever being able to say: “Enough.”


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.