Saturday, August 28, 2010

Seeing the Tragic Divorce Between Doctrine And Practice

On the feast day of St Augustine it seems what von Balthasar felt about a "divorce" within the church continues to separate many of us.

From Christology from Within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar by Mark McIntosh

As von Balthasar worked his way through the classics of Christian thought, the uneasy sensation settled over him that a tragic divorce had occurred between doctirne and practice, between theorlogy and spirituality... He struggled to understand what he saw as the fatal consequences of this separation - the desiccation of dogmatics and the self-absorption of spirituality... The separation has in von Balthasar's mind a more grievously concrete cause: an absence of men and women with the grace to unify theology and spirituality in their own lives.

(Can it be better explained than that?)

Von Balthasar sees the first real impetus for this separation in the church's need to challenge false teaching and schismatic tendencies, and therefore to demarcate the limits of authentic Christian faith.

"... he argues that philosophical ideas, norms, and methods became a rigid structure imposed upon the content of faith.  The result was an increasing isolation of dogmatic and mystical theology from one another, each becoming more inaccessible and unattractive to the practitioners of the other."

He is clearly far from assigning blame only to the scientific theologians.  The saints are more and more called to offer descriptions of their inner states and experiences; they are "required to describe the way in which they experienced God, and the accent is always on experience rather than on God.: for the nature of God is a subject for the theological specialist."  It is as if the taste of spiritually inclined persons becomes so subjective and rarified that the objective mysteries of Christianity only manage to obstruct their view.  The saints, therefore, "are not taken seriously in theology because they themselves did not venture to be theologically minded."

Von Balthasar sees this (the role of the saints) gift of openness and availability to the Word as first a gift of the church, but it often becomes manifest in a saint, whose soul has gazed so long and deeply on the light of God that it has come to hold within itself an almost inexhaustible store of light and love, and so can offer lasting force and sustenance.

In other words, mysticism which is not in some way in the service of the whole church's ever deeper appropriation and understanding of life in Christ is not an appropriate theological matrix. is not experience of a union with God which represents the yardstick of perfection or the highest stage of ascent, but rather obedience, which can be quite as tightly bound to the experience of abandonment by God as to the experience of union with God.
Authentic Christianity spirituality is already communally oriented, for it is a spirituality ordered primarily to obedience, which always involves community.

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