Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

What’s Wrong with Theology: A Short Case Study

Earlier today, browsing the Amazon page for Augustine’s Essential Sermons, I came across this passage from the “Product Description”:

The eleven volumes of Augustine’s popular sermons (Sermones ad populum) . . . showcase Augustine the brilliant speaker and engaging preacher of the Word and have proven an indispensable resource for contemporary scholarship. . . . [Edmund] Hill’s translation and extensive notes have received many accolades by scholars, but professors have clamored for a one-volume anthology in paperback form that would be affordable to students and that could be used as required texts in teaching undergraduates, graduate students and seminarians. . . . Students and preachers alike will discover Augustine’s masterful interpretation of the Word of God and creative skills in engaging the people of God.

What’s wrong with this description? More importantly, who is missing? These sermons are “an indispensable resource for contemporary scholarship,” and the translations have received “many accolades by scholars,” and this one-volume anthology will be useful for “undergraduates, graduate students and seminarians.” But where is the layperson? There’s a reason they ain’t titled Sermones ad professorum. They were preached in a church to laypeople, and now they are tragically of interest primarily to scholars and students training to become scholars. The devoted layperson has been left out of the picture altogether. Language like this is a symptom of a disease — the co-opting of theology by the academy from its place in service to the church.

Augustine himself would have been unhappy with our bifurcation of theology and spirituality, or their institutional parallels, academy and church. Consider:

Factum audivimus: mysterium requiramus.
(We have heard the fact, let us seek the mystery.)

One of the maddening things about my “Christian spirituality” classes in grad school was the constant separation students fretted over between “head” and “heart.” This may have been a legitimate problem, but the way they articulated it made it sound like the problem was somehow too much theology. Wrong! A bifurcation of “head” and “heart” is the result of faulty theology, not too much. Something we could learn by reading more Augustine.

(A bracing post-Enlightenment tonic for this ailment is Andrew Louth’s marvelous book Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology, which Eighth Day Books has put back in print.)

(crossposted at Nonnus.)


Brand New Human

I guess it would be kind of odd if my blog continued to hum along like life at my home hadn’t been turned upside down in the past week. Although the vast majority of readers here already know, I thought I’d announce Jess’s and my latest purchase at the local Walmart.


Lillian Christine Reimer
born 8:53 pm, June 9, 2009
8 lbs. 3 oz.

Patrick Deneen Tells Us How to Live

I just read a longish essay on Front Porch Republic by Patrick Deneen, titled What Is to Be Done? Although the entire thing is worth reading (as is most everything by Deneen), this marvelous quote near the end is where he really delivers the goods. Idealistic? Maybe, but read the entire essay, and you’ll get a better sense of where he’s coming from.

Small changes might have large effects over time. Demands in changes to zoning laws, requiring more mixed use space – commercial, residential, educational, religious and otherwise – would begin to re-integrate the various central activities of human life. Demotion of the automobile is a major desideratum, and here a great coalition between the environmental Left and traditionalist Right is there for the picking. Libertarians, Catholics and traditionalists can make common cause in demanding more economic and legislative subsidiarity, although libertarians must chasten their dogmatic individualism and understand that the best restraint upon large-scale centralized institutions are not individuals, but communities. There is no “free market” – it is the fantasy of ideological purists – but there are markets that leave us more free as members of communities and relatively more immune from large-scale centralized institutions (public or private) than others. People might be persuaded to call for a different finger to be put on the legislative scales: not the one that now gives advantage to large-scale organizations, but a different finger that gives advantage to smaller companies, family-businesses, local enterprises whose bottom-line is not the benefit of absentee shareholders, but the life and fabric of good communities. Liberatarians are right that onerous regulation is to be rejected, but not because it represents an imposition upon profitability, but rather because it is desired by both big government and big business as an obstacle to entry of smaller players. Perhaps something so inventive as a dual regulatory system could be conceived, in which smaller businesses bear a lighter burden. Incentives to smallness and localism should become the norm and default, and not the current set of incentives that favor the creation of entities that are “too big to fail.” Anyone who believes that the past year demonstrates our greater “freedom” needs to have their pulse checked.

Possibly the Best Photo Ever Taken