This innovative work is an introduction to Christian theology witha difference. Not only does it interpret, with clarity and energy,fundamental Christian beliefs but it also shows how and why thesebeliefs arose, promoting an understanding of theological reflectionthat encourages readers to think theologically themselves.
From Irenaeus and Aquinas to Girard, from Augustine to Zizioulasand contemporary feminist thought, Divine Teaching exploresthe ways in which major thinkers in the Christian tradition haveshaped theology through the wide variety of their encounters withGod. It makes theological study adventurous and interactive, notnecessarily requiring a faith commitment from all, but allowingreaders a thoughtful involvement in the subject that takesseriously the Christian vision of God as the ultimate teacher oftheology.
Divine Teaching: An Introduction to Christian Theology isan imaginative and lively analysis of the Christian way ofthinking, offering vivid and informing insight into the history andpractice of Christian theology.
Mark A. McIntosh is Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality at Loyola University, Chicago, where he has taught undergraduates and doctoral students for fifteen years. His publications include Christology from Within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar (1996), Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Blackwell, 1998), Mysteries of Faith (2000), and Discernment and Truth (2004). A priest in the Episcopal Church, he has served as canon theologian to the Presiding Bishop and Primate.
Part I: Becoming a Theologian.
1. How God makes Theologians.
Astonishment and Theological Virtue.
Resurrection to Pentecost: Where Christian Theology Begins.
But Can You Study Theology without Having to Believe?.
2. Strange Calling: Theologians as Adventurers, Pirates,Mystics, and Sages.
Adventure: Continuing Conversion of the Theologian.
Piracy: Thinking Analogically.
Mystical Life: Interpreting Reality in Terms of God.
Wisdom: Thinking by Means of God's Thoughts.
3. Divine Teaching and Christian Beliefs.
Theology's Weakness and Wisdom's Parting Gift.
Sacred Teaching: The Nature and Function of ChristianBeliefs.
Visions of the Whole: Origen, Aquinas, and Barth.
How Not to Believe: The Dangers of Fantasy and Fanaticism.
Part II: Theology's Search for Understanding.
4. Salvation: The Foundation of Christian Theology.
Why Start with Salvation?.
Salvation as the Basis for Christian Theology.
Identifying Different Approaches to the Mystery ofSalvation.
5. Salvation: Meeting Heaven Face to Face.
Irenaeus: Salvation and New Creation.
Brief Interlude: A Crucial Difficulty in Soteriology.
Augustine and God's Justice.
Anselm and the Divine Order.
On the Death of Christ: Orthodox, Feminist, and GirardianConcerns.
Salvation and the Paschal Mystery.
6. Divine Life: Trinity, Incarnation, and the Breathing of theSpirit.
Sheer Bliss: Why God Reveals Divine Life to be the Trinity.
Forgiveness and Abundance: Origins of Trinitarian Awareness.
The Life of the Incarnate Word and the Power of the Spirit.
The Developing Principles of Trinitarian Theology.
Augustine on the Mysterious Attraction of the Trinity: How toRead The Trinity.
Karl Barth on the God Who Loves in Freedom.
Questions in Trinitarian Theology Today.
The Trinity and Mystical Participation in God.
7. Creaturely Life: A Journey towards Beatitude.
Death No Longer Has Dominion: Creation's Path in the Lightof Easter.
Creation - Revelation - Sacrament.
Human Life - Ecclesial Life - Beatitude.
Thomas Aquinas on Creation: "A Representation of theDivine Wisdom".
Blaise Pascal on Human Existence.
Two Disputed Questions.
The Human Calling in Creation.
Strange Calling: Theologians as Adventurers, Pirates, Mystics, and Sages
Adventure: Continuing Conversion of the Theologian
In the middle of World War II in Europe, Simone Weil (1909-43) was writing about beauty and the order of the world. She was a brilliant adventurer, traveling ad-venturam (Latin for "towards the future"). And she was speaking of being lured by a reality more real than the shabby and brutal pseudo-reality that was consuming people all around her. In her view this devouring world leaks out from a strange dislocation of the world from truth, a dislocation that befalls us whenever individuals or nations or causes place themselves at the center of everything and try to make the rest revolve around themselves:
We live in a world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence. A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility, in our immediate reception of sense impressions and psychological impressions.1
Weil was convinced that only if human beings were lured out of themselves would they make contact with the really real. Not that the human ego is unreal, but that its mapping of everything in terms of itself inevitably distorts reality, and diminishes it to the ego's grasp. But if the eye catches a glimpse of something immeasurably beautiful, something awesomely beyond any grasp, then humankind may become adventurous and escape the tidy prison of its small certainties. "A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility," says Weil; the very way such a person relates to the world becomes different, mysteriously lamed like Jacob after wrestling with the angel (see Genesis 32: 22ff.): less able to control, but more willing to receive beyond all expectations.
Another thinker, possibly the most influential theologian Christianity has ever known, noticed, like Weil, this curious link between egocentric possessiveness and narrowness of understanding. In his masterwork, The Trinity, Augustine of Hippo (354-430) describes the soul's anxiety to possess more and more for itself as leading it, tragically, to perceive less and less of what is really there:
The soul, loving its own power, slides away from the whole which is common to all into the part which is its own private property. By following God's directions and being perfectly governed by his laws it could enjoy the whole universe of creation; but by the apostasy of pride which is called the beginning of sin it strives to grab something more than the whole and to govern it by its own laws; and because there is nothing more than the whole it is thrust back into anxiety over a part, and so by being greedy for more it gets less.. It drags the deceptive semblances of bodily things inside, and plays about with them in idle meditation until it cannot even think of anything divine except as being such.2
Augustine's own personal series of often painful conversions left him acutely aware of the self's deceptive cunning and its tendency to cocoon itself within ego-gratifying fantasies of every kind. The result, says Augustine, is a barely noticeable shriveling of reality - even the reality of God - to the constraints of the mind's own concepts, imaginative constructs, and desires. The possibility that reality could be larger than this is conceivable to such a mind only as a threat.
Theology, in the deepest sense, is the complete reversal of this. Theology takes place when the theologian, lured by ungraspable truth, ceases to devour everything and is herself or himself "devoured," transformed by a reality too real to be, in Augustine's terms, dragged back into the mind's manipulations. In Simone Weil's view, theological formation is like an adventure into a labyrinth:
The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.3
There are places and times in one's life, Weil seems to be saying, when we are lured beyond our customary view of the world. We become entranced by a poet, or a child we know approaches death, or we realize in the face of someone's forgiveness how much we have hurt him, or a vibration of iridescent green hummingbird hovers for a moment before our eyes - in such moments a journey may begin from which we will never come back as we used to be.
Christians believe that such a moment as this overtook Jesus' first followers shortly after his crucifixion. They wandered into a labyrinth, an empty tomb, and although they seemed simply to follow a trail of their own collapsing expectations, infidelities, and betrayals they were accosted instead by a love and forgiveness so intensely alive they could not believe it was the same one who had died until he showed them his hands and his side. They thought they were consuming his life, but the more he gave himself into their hands - "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26: 26) - the more they seemed to be taken into his life, taken up to become his Body. Theology in the truest sense begins with this adventure, this conversion or transformation towards a new way of experiencing and understanding reality. While we may very well study Christian theology without this having happened to us ourselves, we will never really see what theology is about until and unless we recognize that true theologians see everything from this new perspective, from this sharing in the dying and rising of Jesus.
Piracy: Thinking Analogically
Theology is this openness to a reality that gives itself away but remains ever wondrously ungraspable. It is a perspective increasingly free from the anxious need to fix everything within one's usual terms of control. And yet, urged along by a commanding astonishment at the really real, theologians can't help behaving like pirates, at least linguistically and conceptually. It is not entirely their fault, remember. Theologians have been lured by God to adventure out beyond the usual decent use of words, and they have been made divinely discontented with the common shrinking of reality into concepts that are too small. And so they barely pause before outrageously commandeering ordinary common words and ideas to express what really lies beyond them. "It is this piratical and savage behaviour of theologians towards words," remarks Herbert McCabe, that chiefly characterizes theological language. Why? Because there are no other words to use and the reality theologians are desperate to speak of is marvelously beyond the words they have. Theologians in general, says McCabe, have an interest
in failure in that they have to be constantly aware of the inadequacy of the language they have to use. Our [normal decent use of] language does not encompass but simply strains towards the mystery that we encounter in Christ.. The theologian uses a word by stretching it to breaking point, and it is precisely as it breaks that the communication, if any, is achieved. He takes a perfectly good pagan word like "God" or "sacred" or "prayer" and twists it out of all recognition: and he does this not from verbal sadism but because there are not any other words to use.4
The problem for theology is that people will tend to tie up the words' meanings to their finite usage, whereas a theologian is keen to sail the words into an uncharted surplus of meaning.
And that's because theology is trying to talk about a reality that is not a force alongside us among all the other forces in the universe (only bigger, tougher, smarter, and invisible). So theology grabs hold of a language that is used for talking about things doing their thing in the universe. But theology is trying to talk about a reality who is absolutely and by definition not one of the things of the universe, or even the universe itself, but the reason why there is a universe rather than simply nothing. That is why theology becomes so joyfully abandoned whenever it can get its hands on a good metaphor (in which one reality is used to provoke our imaginative thought about another quite different from it) or a decent analogy. Take the use of the deliciously analogy-prone word "love."
Let's say I'm using it to talk about my gluttonous urge for ice cream: "I would love a chocolate malt." And then in total meltdown I cry out just two hours later, "I would really love a raspberry sundae with lots and lots of nuts on it." Now besides my personal gastronomic degradation what we have here is...