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.)


1 comment so far

  1. Kristi on

    WordPress asked me to “leave a comments,” so here it is: Nice post! And I agree.

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