With respect, this is, in fact, an anti-gospel argument. The gospel is intended for the world, for every people, for every culture. The gospel is not just for Jews but also for Greeks, not just for Greeks but also for Latins, not just for Latins but also for Asians and South Americans and whomever. Hence the need to translate the gospel when it moves from one culture to the next. This work of translation requires both the baptism of the thought forms, concepts, and symbols of the new culture but also the correction of these forms, concepts, and symbols, as well as the creation of new ones. There is death and resurrection. It is arrogance and sin for any single Church to believe that its culturally-contingent expression of the gospel is superior in all respects to all other expressions. Our theological constructions are ultimately always inadequate and thus in need of reform. The gospel is not “Byzantine” or “Latin” or “semitic” – it is catholic.
If one believes that the Church to which one belongs is the true Church, it is, I suppose, natural and inevitable that one will believe that that Church’s theological formulations are superior in all respects. And so we spend our time and energy demonstrating to all others how and why this is so. But this is apologetics, not theology. It has its place but its place is subordinate to theology and the search for truth.
… It is arrogance for either the Latin Christian or the Byzantine Christian to think that the truths of grace, theosis, and sanctification that they seek to express in their respective theological formulations are the only way or even the ultimately best way to express these truths. What is of first importance is to understand why theologians developed, and indeed invented, the language and concepts that they did. What essential truths and insights were they seeking to express? Just as the scholastic notion of “created grace” was the fruit of centuries of Latin reflection, so the Palamite notion of divine energies/being was the fruit of centuries of Eastern reflection. Before the Latin believer can begin to critique the Eastern position, he first needs to comprehend and master his own tradition and then he needs to understand in its own terms – or at least seek to understand – the Eastern position. And ditto for the Eastern believer. Unless this is done, constructive engagement and mutual understanding are impossible. All we have is fruitless and demeaning polemic.
Before throwing out the usual polemical criticisms, I suggest that each person ask his debate partner “Have I stated well your position?” “Do you think I have understood it?”
In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum …
August 28, 2008 by Irenaeus