Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Moral Qualities of a Theologian

I found some interesting quotations about essential qualities of a theologian this morning when cleaning out my bathroom. Really! In a basket of steam-wrinkled reading material that I decided to purge, I found a handout that one of my lay Carmelite brothers gave me, which he had received I believe during a month-long vocation-discerning retreat in a Cistercian monastery.

I don't know much about Gregory of Naziannzus who I quote below. (He is also called Gregory the Theologian and is honored by both the Eastern and Western churches.) But from what little I read, it is not for nothing that this St. Gregory is a Doctor of the Catholic Church. The conference leader, Daniel Hombergen, wrote in the handout:

"Gregory initiates his first Theological Oration (Or. 27) by addressng his opponents {Ed: neo-Arians], whom he attacks for the pride they take in their dialectical skill as sophists and word-gamesters, but who neglect to engage themselves in moral action and ascetic practic with a similar skill. ... Speculating about God, however, is a matter of great delicacy."

I see a lot of pride among the writings of theologians that I have been exposed to. Even if pride weren't a sin of great magnitutude that leads to other sins, their pride is misplaced pride. Their credibility is low and their credulousness is high. I always recall my dismay at a ridiculous article someone at work gave me from a respected theological journal. The theologian who wrote the article had searched the New Testament and cobbled together a series of texts that proved to his satisfatction that the Apostle Paul was a Roman spy.

Back to Gregory. I have a few minutes before a carpet cleaner comes (still another task outstanding from my Advent wreath fire on the last Sunday of Advent).

"O listeners, it is not for everyone to philosophize (phiosophein) about God ... definitely not. This is neither such a matter that can be easily be acquired, nor something for peple cleaving to earth. . .. This is not for all men, but only for those who have been put to the test and who have progressed in comtemplation (theoria), that is, those who have first purified their souls and their bodies, or, at least, those who are purifying it. For if someone is not pure, it is not without danger to take hold of what is pure, as it is for weak eyes to look into a sun ray. What is the right moment then? When we take distance from the mud and the disorder in the outside world, and when the governing part of our soul (hegemnikon) is not confused by evil images wandering in all directions, as if we were mixing calligraphic writing with dreadful scrawling or odoriferous* scent with mud. We must actually be free in order to know God . . ."

I couldn't have said it better :-). Actually, I couldn't have said it at all, just trying to be funny. The wisdom of St. Gregory the Theologisn is the fruit of a long period of self-abnegation practiced by him. It comes from God, not from the cleverness of the writer. Enough said.

* [Ed: Perhaps a more-positive word than odoriferous should have been used here, since the most comon understanding of odoriferous is not pleasant. Perfumed, or fragrant would be better even though they are not as rich in connotations as the positive sense of odoriferous would be]
Post a Comment