Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whiskey Theology

I'll admit that to be a very sophomore Seminarian blog post title, resembling the overly eager theoblogging of those who didn't quite get the partying out of their system in college. But I actually find whiskey (and it can take me up to six months sometimes to get through a bottle) to be an illuminating theological tool.

First off, a good single malt nicely encapsulates apophatic theology. It is the mark of an amateur to believe that tasting notes, such as cantaloupe, chocolate, coffee, or even fresh cut grass, are actual ingredients in the making of the whiskey itself. Obviously, such descriptors are mere analogies from more familiar tasting or smelling experiences used to describe the far more complex taste of the whiskey. Still, it is strange how often people will aks, upon reading such descriptions, "They actually put that stuff in the whiskey?" Likewise, it is the mark of an amateur in theology to think that God's qualities, such as fatherhood or beauty, are sufficiently explained by our own experiences of fatherhood or beauty. Instead, these are mere analogies from more familiar experiences to describe the mystery of God.

Whiskey - or at least a recent experience of mine with it - can also be used to explain the role of Mary and the communion of saints. The other night I went to a friend's house, and he poured me a semi-decent 12 year single malt. Seeing he just got married and I had given him the bottle as a gift a few weeks ago, the whiskey that he poured me happened to be one I had bought for him. As he poured to me and others present, my friend joked that he was only giving me and them what was mine, which - in truth - it no longer was.

This is, I think, a helpful explanation for the act of theological imagination that so many Protestants seem incapable of making in regard to the communio sanctorum. Any powers the saints have are gifts given to them by God. Sanctity, no less than economics, is not a zero-sum game. If Mary or the saints have something to offer, it's not that God necessarily has less.  We enjoyed that whiskey as our friend's gift to us (even if it did, technically speaking, originate with me).  If I am capable of that level of normative charity, how absurd to think God wouldn't be.  Yes, it all comes from God, but God delights in delegation. Mary and the saints do not, therefore, "compete" with God.

Protestants rightfully protest devotion to the Virgin or saints when the practice is not so understood (a widespread distortion, to be sure). But assuming the abuse to be the norm would be the equivalent of assuming all Protestants preach the prosperity gospel (an equally widespread distortion). Martin Luther understood this. Why can't his theological heirs? "We ought to call upon her that for her sake God may grant and do what we request. Thus also other saints are to be invoked, so that the work may be every way God's alone" (Luther's Works, vol. 21, pp. 326-29).