When I read Chris Warner’s article on Eastern Christianity, I was captivated by this line…
The East complements the Western need to act upon the world with missionary zeal by being more singularly focused on the liturgical and interior spiritual life of Christianity than its Roman counterpart.
The proclivity of the West to intellectually master, dissect, analyze and dominate everything often spills over into theology as a temptation to siphon God’s mystery of its secrets. Theology, which is the exploration of divine revelation, begins as an act of patient waiting, of receptivity wrapped in a reverent awe of the God who speaks to those who listen in silent love. This proper posture toward God’s mystery we call prayer, as desert Father Evagrius affirmed when he said, the one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.
Within academic theological circles there is a tendency, in my experience, to view prayer a mere act of sentimental piety peripheral to the work of real, rigorous thinking. To see a scholar thumbing her rosary beads before offering an erudite lecture on ‘theology in a post-Christian world’ would appear odd in the academy, a curiosity.
But for a Catholic theologian it must not be thus. Theology is not a disinterested dissection of a corpse, but a dangerous consummation of love with the living and risen Christ. And prayer is not only an affective movement, or a mere litany of requisition, but an intellectual suffering of the mind-blowing mystery of God that yields knowledge.
Thinking in God
In this sense, theology is fundamentally liturgical, inasmuch as in liturgy we become lost in the sacramental thickets of God-made-flesh and find ourselves caught up in a dialogue that has forever pulsed in the fathomless heart of the Trinity. Theology is thinking in prayer.
Imagine what ‘thinking in prayer’ must be like, if we are talking about the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Imagine if this God were, as St. Catherine of Siena once boldly worded it, pazzo d’amore, ’mad with love.’ To speak worthily of such a God we must balance careful thinking with careless loving; detached reflection with total immersion. Here we can affirm that the sober symmetry of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa requires the complementary inebriated tussle of St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue.
Such a praying ‘liturgical theology’ functions in much the same way the late Benedictine theologian, Aidan Kavanaugh, describes liturgy:
The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.
If poetry is, as Wordworth says, ‘emotion recollected in tranquility,’ then theology is God-drenched thought recollected in tranquility.
A professor from my graduate theology study years once shared a first-hand account of a lecture presented by the famous Dominican spiritual theologian Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange during the early 1960s in Rome. He said that the aged Lagrange walked up to the podium and began the opening prayer with the Latin word, Deus, ‘God.’
‘Deus…Deus…De-…’ Lagrange was unable to proceed any further, and had to leave the auditorium. ‘But,’ the professor said, ‘it was clear to all who knew him that this was no stroke, that Fr. Réginald was seized, as he often was in his latter years, by a love for the God whose Name he could not speak without being drawn out of himself.’
As a saintly DRE once said to me after a lecture I gave on theology, ‘Thinking about God at this point in my life leaves me with little to say, but much to love.’