In my last vignette, I tried to explain “why I mostly avoid modern theologians like the plague“. But what I did not explain is what a “theologian” was in original Christianity. But first, for contrast and, I admit, for a little fun, let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about this. This is so “perfect” that I will quote it in length the top paragraph: (emphasis added)
Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also deals with religious epistemology, asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.
Theologians use various forms of analysis and argument (experiential, philosophical, ethnographic, historical, and others) to help understand, explain, test, critique, defend or promote any myriad of religious topics. As in philosophy of ethics and case law, arguments often assume the existence of previously resolved questions, and develop by making analogies from them to draw new inferences in new situations.
The study of theology may help a theologian more deeply understand their own religious tradition, another religious tradition, or it may enable them to explore the nature of divinity without reference to any specific tradition. Theology may be used to propagate, reform, or justify a religious tradition; or it may be used to compare, challenge (e.g. biblical criticism), or oppose (e.g. irreligion) a religious tradition or worldview. Theology might also help a theologian address some present situation or need through a religious tradition, or to explore possible ways of interpreting the world.
All of the above has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in common, not even remotely, with the real Christian theology and notions about who/what “theologians” are.
The short answer can be found in the Gospels, specifically in the Beatitudes, and even more specifically this one:
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God“. (Matt 5:8)
This, of course, begs the question, what does “pure in heart” mean and what does “see God” mean.
In another part of the Gospels, we read this:
The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. (Luke 11:33-36)
Again, both of these metaphors point to the same realities:
- The spiritual condition of the “observer’s” soul directly determines his ability to “see” God and the Light
- God, and the Light, can be seen and, therefore, experienced.
Okay, before we go any further, I need to clarify one absolutely crucial thing and I will do that using simple language. I hope that this is helpful, but I need to warn you that what follows is as false as, say, the “orbital” structure of the atom we are taught in school: a nucleus surrounded by electrons “in orbit” “just like” the planets around a star. So I will deliberately grossly oversimplify an extremely complex reality. Please do not, repeat, NOT take what comes next literally. Having said that, let me try to put that in my own, clumsy, words.
God is infinitely different from us. He cannot be seen, or even imagined. One major Church Father (Saint Maximos the Confessor) went as far as to say that if we exist, then God does not. He was not denying the existence of God, of course, but the application of a very human concept of “existence” to God. You can flip that around if you want and say that if God exists, then we don’t. The key here is that we are part of God creation, while He is, obviously, not. And yes, of course, He is also everywhere, but not in a way we can speculate about. This is not a contradiction, but a paradox which cannot be solved speculatively, but can be experienced! In fact, according to Fathers, “negative theology” – the correct term is “apothatic” (saying what God is NOT) – is a much preferable path than any “positive theology” which describes God in any human terms/categories. But even “negative theology”, while preferable, is does not address the issue of the *purity* of the heart/soul/eye. Nor does it indicate HOW to achieve such a purity.
Furthermore, another logical question is this: if God is so infinitely different from us (much more different than, say, a virus and a human being), how can the Fathers then speak of “experiencing” God. Again, here we are touching upon a very complex issue which generated a lot of controversy. So rather than discussing it as the “distinction between essence and the uncreated energies of God”, I will quote the Old Testament:
And the Lord said to Moses, I will also do for thee this thing, which thou hast spoken; for thou hast found grace before me, and I know thee above all. And says, Manifest thyself to me. And said, I will pass by before thee with my glory, and I will call by my name, the Lord, before thee; and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and will have pity on whom I will have pity. And said, Thou shalt not be able to see my face; for no man shall see my face, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, a place by me: thou shalt stand upon the rock; and when my glory shall pass by, then I will put thee into a hole of the rock; and I will cover thee over with my hand, until I shall have passed by.And I will remove my hand, and then shalt thou see my back parts; but my face shall not appear to thee (Exodus 33:17-23 LXX)
Needless to say, this is again a metaphor. But it shows that the “face” (or essence) of God cannot be seen by any human, but that His “back” can be seen. So what is this “back”? Here, again, the correct reply is “the uncreated energies of God”, but to keep this simple, let’s call it “God’s radiance”. This is also what the Apostles Peter, James, and John saw during the Transfiguration, and what uncounted number of saints have seen/experienced in their lives and are STILL experiencing even in our modern times! (just let that sink in for a minute!)
Let’s not discuss any further what this “radiance” is or how exactly some people can “see” it (that is waaaaaaay beyond our modest scope). Let’s that sum it up, again grossly oversimplifying this, by saying that humans can, in some specific state/condition, actually really EXPERIENCE the reality and presence of God, in spite of not ever being able to even begin to imagine, nevermind experiencing, Him directly (aka His “essence”).
Of course, God also communicates with mankind through His prophets and His Church (which is His “modern prophet” if you wish) which is filled with His Holy Spirit. And, even more obviously, Christ is God Incarnate, but that I won’t discuss now. So let’s please set that aside, just for the time being. Let’s just say that God never “left” us in any way, nor did he “deputize” anybody to be His spokesman, caretaker, substitute or “vicar” (all which do logically imply that God somehow “left” us).
I think that I can stop here for today. My plan for the next vignette will be to outline what early Christians believed is the correct method/sequence to try become able to (re)acquire a “pure heart”. I will just say this: a pure heart is a virtue, not EVER an academic title or the result of philosophical speculations.
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I, Andrei Raevsky, aka The Saker, have absolutely no authority whatsoever to teach anything to anyone. None. Zero. Ziltch. Nada! The “Christian Vignettes” are NOT a catechism, or a course in dogmatics or anything else formal. These vignettes are only one guy’s strictly personal musings on various topics. Nothing more.