Repost from 2012
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 secrets that can only be had by the posture of humble receptivity we call faith. Theology, which is faith’s intelligent exploration of divine revelation, begins as an act of patient waiting wrapped in a reverent awe of the God who speaks only to those who listen in silent love. This posture of faith toward God’s mystery we call prayer. The desert Father Evagrius said as much 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 ultimately peripheral to the work of rigorous and critical thinking. To see a scholar thumbing her rosary beads before offering an erudite lecture entitled, say, “Theology in a post-Christian world,” would appear in the academy as a curiosity at best.
But for a Catholic theologian it must not be so. Theology is not a disinterested dissection of a corpse, but a *dangerous* encounter with the living and risen Christ. Dangerous because God’s Truth is not assimilated by us, but we by It. Prayer, therefore, is not only an act of emotive piety but, as Deacon Keating says so eloquently, is the suffering of the coming of Truth Himself into the mind.
In this sense, theology is fundamentally a liturgical act inasmuch as liturgy thrusts us into the thickets of God-made-flesh only to find ourselves caught up in a dialogue that eternally erupts 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” for humanity. To speak worthily of such a God we must balance careful thinking and careless loving, detached reflection and total immersion. Here we can affirm that the sober architecture of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologica must be complemented by the inebriated gush of Dominican tertiary St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue with God the Father.
Such a praying “liturgical theology” functions in much the same way the late Benedictine theologian, Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh, described the 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.
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 agèd Lagrange, who was otherwise in good health, 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,” my 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.”