Sunday, November 19, 2006

Six Theses on Parallel Centuries

1a. In the 13th century, an infusion of pagan philosophy into the medieval world through translations of Aristotle led to a significant degree of theological confusion.
1b. Today, postmodern currents have led to similar (though not unexciting) disturbances in contemporary theology.

2a. In the 13th century, one reaction to the challenge of Aristotle was an indiscriminate surrender of central tenets of Christian faith. One unfortunate example would be to believe, with Aristotle, in the eternity of the earth instead of holding onto to the then unfashionable doctrine of creation.
2b. Today, one reaction to postmodernity is the same capitulation to the spirit of the age by minds insufficiently formed by the Christian faith and overly excited about postmodernity. One unfortunate example is someone who, when given the chance to publicly clarify his views in the pages of a major Christian publication, instead punts to pluralism as John Caputo did in the recent issue of Books & Culture.

3a. In the 13th century, the over-correcting response to sloppily-Hellenized Christianity was a refusal to engage Aristotle at all.
3b. Today, the over-correcting response to sloppily-postmodernized Christianity is a refusal to engage postmodern thought at all.

4a. Consequently, in the 13th century two shortsighted theological camps - Aristotelians and anti-Aristotelians - were locked in a perpetual and uninteresting debate.
4b. Today, two similarly shortsighted theological camps - postmodernist and anti-postmodernist - are locked in a perpetual and uninteresting debate.

5a. The resolution to this dilemma in the 13th century required a mind formidable enough to thoroughly comprehend and appreciate Aristotle, yet Christian enough to know what aspects of the faith could not be forsaken, that is, a mind able to assimilate Aristotle into Christianity instead of the other way around. Due to the necessary combination of natural giftedness and adequate training, such minds are rare - but one came along in Thomas Aquinas . The result of was theology enhanced by the truth contained in Aristotle, and immunized against its mistakes - to the benefit of both Chritsianity and Aristotle.
5b. The resolution to the dilemma today requires a mind formidable enough to thoroughly comprehend and appreciate postmodern theory, yet Christian enough to know what aspects of Christian faith cannot be sacrificed to it. Due to the rare combination of natural giftedness and proper training, such minds are rare. Yet (though probably not as epoch-defining as Aquinas), in David Bentley Hart such a mind has come along.

6a. Aquinas, both during and after his lifetime, was misunderstood. The Aristotelians saw him as too Christian, the anti-Aristotelians saw him as too pagan. The result was that many stayed stuck in the tired debates of opposing camps, when they could have transcended them by reading Aquinas. But it being hard to get a copy of an Aquinas manuscript back then, they can be forgiven.
6b. Hart is similarly misunderstood, but it being so easy to get a copy of his work, staying stuck in the tired postmodern or anti-postmodern camps is a much less forgivable offense.