Philip Reynolds at the Boston Colloquy for Historical Theology: historical theology is “the study of text and context.” The question, then (as he continued), is what do we bring to that study?
Nicholas Roerich’s “St. Francis” (1932)
Currently reading: What Sort of Human Nature?: Medieval Philosophy and the Systematics of Christology (The Aquinas Lecture; 1999) by Marilyn McCord Adams 📚
Christianity is not about having an exquisite collection of private meanings that one occasionally dusts and admires. It’s about the mess and inconvenience and annoyance of other people and the terror of being known: God is never more God than when God is walking around in a killable body, irritating the authorities and being misunderstood by God’s stupid friends, of whom I hope I am one.
One of the peculiarities of writing a dissertation during 2020–21 was the lack of library access. I was fortunate in owning many of the materials I needed, and the library staff at Boston College did what they could to make their collection available to us. Still, I’m glad to have more regular access to a library again (and one as good as the Franciscan Institute’s in Friedsam Memorial Library!).
Currently reading: Thomas Aquinas: Faith, Reason, and Following Christ (Christian Theology in Context) by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt 📚
I like this characterization of prayer, in the fourth book of the Franciscan Summa halensis (q.26, m.3, a.7; p. 720 in the 1622 Cologne edition). A quick and rough translation (verging on paraphrase, really):
Properly speaking, prayer is the ascent of the soul to God ordered to the tasting or releasing of something; commonly speaking, prayer is any act of contemplation related to God; most commonly speaking, prayer is any good act.
Currently reading: Knowing God by Experience: The Spiritual Senses in the Theology of William of Auxerre by Boyd Taylor Coolman 📚
Paul Griffiths, in a parenthetical aside:
Augustine on the whole does not like jokes, and thinks there will be none in heaven.
Willie James Jennings, with a really lovely description of theological education at the end of his After Whiteness:
To be involved in theological education is to long for eternity and the end of death. It is to seek the blessed state where our words start to do new work by first joining the chorus of the words of those who live forever in the Lord and who sound the healing and redeeming voice of the living God. Then our words will heal. Then our words will build up. Then our words will help form life together. Then our words will give witness to a destiny only visible through love. Talking together then is a practice aimed at eternity, and it matters more than we often realize for bringing our hope into focus. This finally is the goal of this book and the task I want to leave you with—to bring hope into focus.
Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness:
Theological education could mark a new path for Western education, one that builds a vision of education that cultivates the new belonging that this world longs to inhabit. But we cannot give witness to that newness if we imagine that our fundamental struggle is one of institutional survival, or the challenge of educational delivery systems, or the alignment of financial modeling with our desired outcomes, or the expansion of pedagogical models. All these matters are important, but they are not where the struggle meets us or from where the vision of our futures will come.
Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness:
Theological education is also about resistance. It is the seed from which may grow beautiful habitation or from which may grow mind-bending captivity. Yet how do you design for intellectual resistance? This may be the most pressing question in theological education today, because we theological educators are failing miserably at precisely this—at imagining a form of resistance that builds community.
After my first year of full-time teaching, I’m glad to get back to research. Currently reading: A Reader in Early Franciscan Theology edited and translated by Lydia Schumacher and Oleg Bychkov 📚
Yesterday I saw a tweet floating around asking for your “personal canon,” that is, which are the books that you have used to understand the world? Limiting myself only to written works (and not, say, music or film), here’s what I would say, roughly ordered according to when I encountered these books:
- The gospel according to Luke
- The book of Revelation
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
- Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton
- Proslogion by Anselm of Canterbury
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel
- Silence by Shūsaku Endō
- Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
- On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent by Gustavo Gutiérrez
I don’t have much reading from my childhood represented; I’m not sure that much reading from before college has stuck with me in this world-shaping way. My list also skews decidedly modern (only three premodern texts), which is a little embarassing for me as a medieval theologian.
I might develop this into a fuller blog post, detailing why each of these books belong to my canon and how they inform my understanding of the world. I’m sure I’ll think of other books to add, too (and maybe, upon further refletion, remove some of these).
We want peace, but not the peace of violence and of cemeteries, not peace imposed or extorted. We want peace that is the fruit of justice, peace that is the fruit of obedience to God, for God was expecting the righteousness and justice that his vineyard should have produced but got in return only murders. What we have of humanity and Christianity in El Salvador should have produced much peace, much right, much justice. How different our country would be if it were producing what God has planted here! It’s sad to say, but God feels he has failed with certain societies, and I think that the passages from Isaiah and Saint Paul that we read today have become a very sad Salvadoran reality: “I looked for righteousness, and behold, murders! I looked for justice, and behold, laments!” (Isa. 5:7).
The Boston College contingent at Notre Dame’s recent conference on medieval philosophy & theology: John Kern (currently at Pepperdine University), Robin Landrith, Kasey Kimball, AJ Holmes, and me.
My first conference with the St. Bonaventure University affiliation.
Eugene Rogers, Jr, on Augustine:
One of the things that makes Augustine so interesting, so long lasting, and so easy for different theologians to use is that he is productively inconsistent.
John Donne, on the coincidence of Annunciation and Good Friday in 1608:
This doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ’twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the lasting judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone.
My doctoral gown (sans hood and tam)
I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me. Romano Guardini said the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified; one could not separate Christ from His Cross, and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.
From the Easter Exultet, solemnly proclaimed at the Easter Vigil to bless the night and the Easter Candle:
This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!
One of the things I miss most about Boston is living in the interreligious community that was the Barton House. On Good Friday 2020, we gathered to commemorate the way of the cross with a service my friend Laurel and I wrote together. As I review those words we wrote and prayed two years ago, I’m reminded of just how spiritually nourishing and edifying that community was for us all.
David Bentley Hart on tradition:
The tradition’s life, it turns out, is an irrepressible apocalyptic ferment within, beckoning believers simultaneously back to an immemorial past and forward to an unimaginable future. The proper moral and spiritual attitude to tradition’s formal expressions, if all of this is correct, would be not a simple clinging to what has been received, but also a relinquishing, even at times of things that had once seemed most precious: Gelassenheit, to use Eckhart’s language, release. Only thus can one receive tradition as a liberating counterhistory, as the apocalyptic exception to bare history that promises believers a higher truth than death: by remembering a first interruption, awaiting a last interruption, and attempting to sustain the theme uniting them in the interval. Only thus can the faithful find the meaninglessness of bare history converted into a completed tale of vocation and judgment, of a call heard from far away that nevertheless summons them to a promised homeland.
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