Faith in community

Christian faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchelful of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, Christian faith invariably prompts questions, sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as they are, continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, ourselves, and our world.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1991.

This vision of Christian thought, seeking the truth even where it overrides our assumptions and institutions, is rather attractive. It bears strong similarities to Plato’s philosophy, one that knew only the bounds of truth and would countenance no comfort in the arms of traditional community life.

However, where is the Body of Christ in this description? Is it merely one more artificial human barrier to be thrown off? Or perhaps a pragmatic necessity only to be shed at some point in the distant future? Or is it the enemy of inquiry, preferring the things of man to the things of God? Scripture itself requires us to say no, no, and no.

Instead Tradition points us to the Incarnation, the place where God became man, as our starting point. Truth does not simply remain distant, but comes close to us. And in coming to us, it transforms us. Of course, this merely gives us the possibility of such an encounter with the divine horizon of Truth. The method (ie faith) will take more work.

The 9th century theologian Anselm tentatively titled his Proslogium as Faith Seeking Understanding. Perhaps this classical definition of theology can guide us along our path. At the beginning of his Confessions, St Augustine calls out to God, knowing that he has not apprehended his object, but believing that that calling him is the way to seek after him.

“I will seek Thee, Lord, by calling on Thee…”

Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo, and E. B. Pusey. The Confessions of St. Augustine. Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996.

We seek God by calling on him. In other words, perhaps our best theology is prayer. So what does this have to do with the radical faith mentioned above? In prayer, we look to God himself as our only standard. He who remains ever distant is like the horizon. As we approach the horizon, it continually remains beyond our grasp. And yet we can see the horizon. Prayer is radical, in that it seeks to transform after an objectivity that is always beyond us. We’re never done being sanctified. And at the same time the act of prayer is an act of submission, a reminder that it is not we ourselves who guide the form but merely remain open to it.

Prayer—adoration, praise, thanksgiving, intercession—always presupposes a certain distance between the believer and God, even if it is only the distance between a child (with his timor filialis) and his heavenly Father. And at the same time there is a fundamental familiarity that invites the believer to take the risk of prayer. We cannot pray to God on the basis of an imaginary elevation, but only from real, ground-level creaturehood, for it is in the truth of this creaturehood that the Spirit sets us down—in a place where we do not know what we should pray (Rom 8:26);

Von Balthasar, H. U. (2005). Theo-Logic: Theological Logical Theory: The Spirit of the Truth. (G. Harrison, Trans.) (Vol. 3, pp. 193–194). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

So in what way does this act of theology remain subject to or responsible to the community? Where does mysticism continue to remain part of the church?

For, in Christian terms, even the “mystic” is never an isolated individual; praying in the Spirit (glossolalia) and praying in the mind (prophecy) are here envisaged as a unity, in the context of the charisms that are to be fruitful for the Church in various ways. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).

Von Balthasar, H. U. (2005). Theo-Logic: Theological Logical Theory: The Spirit of the Truth. (G. Harrison, Trans.) (Vol. 3, p. 376). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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