Deeper Implications

I’m enjoying Dominic Legge’s book on the Trinitarian Christology of Aquinas. It was promoted a while back by Craig Carter. He was trying to think of a better book on the subject of Christology by a protestant, but couldn’t come up with one. I don’t know why we need one though, unless we don’t think of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) as our common heritage. I would rather we did, and would make the argument from history that we should. Not that I think Carter disagrees. He’s fighting the fight for abandoning the rash abandonment of the perennial theology of all the former ages of the church. He wants to recover the metaphysical certainties of natural theology that structure our careful and advanced theological formulation. He calls this philosophical theology the great tradition of Christian Platonism.

One of the funniest things (of many) that Roger Scruton said was when he observed that he considered the Enlightenment a kind of light pollution. We all live with physical light pollution if we live around other people, because we all agree that it is better to be able to see the ground nearby than to be able to look above and to the stars beyond. It is a practical thing, and shows one way in which our concern for safety and well-being is not focused on distant and cosmic determinations. Which practical considerations are probably fine for the kinds of considerations that go into having people live close to each other. The philosophical problem of the Englightenment, however, is another thing. The philsophical assumptions of modernity light up immediate rather than transcendent considerations, and it turns out that theology is improperly illuminated when that happens. This change in lighting is not always so apparent, but has been increasingly dawning on theologians. And the insights of gazing at the stars–the time invested, the skill to draw proper conclusions from so doing, the opprobrium of not being practical in this age–turn out to be pretty important for navigating the ship of theology. The Engligtenment, we could say, lit up the seas around the ship, but it turns out that being able to see the waves and billows is not as important as being able to recognize the guiding stars.

The reason Aquinas gets singled out–besides the fact that he is simply one of the greatest theologians God ever gave to the church–is that in continuity with Aquinas we are in continuity with the stargazers of all the ages of the church prior to him. He labored in times when not even the clouds of nominalism had arisen, and there’s much to be said for the philosophical clarity of that moment. We should also remember that the difficult doctrines of the Trinity and Christology were contributed to by Aquinas. Positive contributions to orthodox theology are nothing less than effects caused by the Holy Spirit, and should be remembered and valued as such.

We need the wisdom of those who gazed on the stars because, as we can tell by the present lighting, the nearer waters roll and the tempest still is high. We need their charts in the high seas we navigate. Read Legge’s book on the Christology of Aquinas. Read, for that matter, Aquinas.

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