24 May 2013

The Vocation of the Theologian

The good folks at the Emerging Theologians Project asked me to put together a short piece on the vocation of a theologian.  So, I did.  You can access it here and comment accordingly, or just read it below:

The vocation of the theologian is an entirely too broad notion to characterize: indeed, theology in general appears to be taking more and more often as its subject a series of notions, a broad range of ideas interconnected by (at least in most cases) the somewhat reasonable appropriation of the referent “God” and the study of this same subject in a systematic manner.  Of course, detached from (T)radition, such notions are largely abstract and find themselves describing more accurately the God (or gods) whom the theologian wished existed, rather than the God who actually does exist and, as such, reigns over all (cf. Eph. 4:6).

With this in mind, one definition of the vocation, that is, calling, of the Catholic theologian, seeks to grapple with the words of the 13th century biographer of Francis of Assisi, Julian of Speyer.  In writing an “office” to be used on Francis’ feast, Julian’s provided grist for the theological mill, pointing both toward Francis as an example to be imitated, as well as person who illuminated the mystery of faith by and through his own life.  In Julian’s “office,” the first antiphon to be recited before the first psalm on the vigil Francis’ feast declared Francis to be “vir catholicus et totus apostolicus.” Or, “a Catholic and totally apostolic man.”

Retrieval of Julian’s insight highlights two particular, yet related tasks of the theology.  In one respect, the theologian makes inquiries into tradition, that which is handed over. In our case, the theological questions who Julian was and why he apparently took to writing about Francis at the University of Paris even before the great Bonaventure of Bagnoregio arrived.  At the same time, historical insights beckon a series of equally important questions: what does it mean to be Catholic and totally apostolic today?

The only way, it seems, for a Catholic to approach the vocation of the theologian is to at once work in further uncovering Tradition – that which ought to be handed over – while also engaging existing Tradition.  In other words, the Catholic theologian has as the disposal of his or her vocation the twin engines of Catholicity and apostolicity, which lead, one may presume, to God, the only truly meaningful end.  The vocation of a Catholic theologian is Catholic, both because it has a series of referents to guide it, the demarcating boundaries of Nicean and Chalcedoian faith, as well as broad sweeping spatial and temporal boundaries (the “universal” meaning of catholic).  At the same time, apostolicity suggests not only the employment of a hermeneutic of preference toward the Barque of Peter, but, at the same time, suggests that theologians themselves are indeed “sent,” that is to say, their mission is to encourage true faith, pointing toward the true hope that does not disappoint (cf. Romans 5:5).

I recall the now-deceased Father Kurt Pritzl, OP (a theologian if ever there was one, though he would have demurred at the label) musing in Medieval Philosophy class that "The most sublime idea you'll ever have is the idea of God."   The vocation of every Catholic is to search after the sublime God; the vocation of the Catholic theologian is to point the way. 

1 comment:

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